THE United Nations (UN) is approaching donors to raise $60m to help alleviate a rapidly worsening food crisis in Zimbabwe, as this season’s woeful harvest leaves more than 2-million people in need of food assistance.
Zimbabwe has been experiencing an extensive migration of farmers ditching the production of staple crops such as Maize in favour of cash crops, such as Tobacco, and this is quickly raising the import bill for food.
According to Sory Ouane, country director of the UN World Food Programme in Zimbabwe, the UN has budgeted $86m for its food assistance programme to June this year in order to feed 1.8-million of those in need, but despite some “generous contributions” from donors, the fund had a $60m shortfall.
Roelof Horne, portfolio manager at Investec Asset Management, which manages one of the biggest funds on the continent, on Monday blamed the lack of clarity over property titles after the land grabs in the 2000’s as holding back investment in agriculture.
Zimbabwe was once known as the bread basket of Africa but has seen its economy shrink by half since 1980 as a result of indigenisation and the farm invasions.
However, tobacco is making a comeback again to levels near 200-million kilograms, last seen a decade ago.
“It’s a mess. I think Zimbabwe will be an agriculture power again, but there are complex issues to resolve first,” said Mr Horne.
Mr Ouane said there was a huge deficit in the current Maize harvest, at only 800,000 tonnes in the 2012-13 season, compared with the 2.1-million tonnes needed. The shortfall means 2.2-million people have needed food assistance between October and March, and more than 1-million do not even know what they will be eating from day to day.
The UN met some West African donors in Pretoria last week to try raise funds, but South Africa’s government was not approached as it is part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has its own food security programme.
Unfortunately, there are many competing emergencies in Africa, such as the security crises in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Therefore countries around the world were called upon to “dig deeper into their pockets”. “Zimbabwe is a forgotten emergency,” he said. It is understood the Zimbabwe government last week visited South Africa to negotiate importing 150,000 tonnes of maize into the country.
Spokeswoman for SADC Leefa Martin said on Monday a four-year plan of action was in place for strengthening sectoral co-operation between member states, which include Zimbabwe.
Its aim was to help African countries reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development to eliminate hunger, reduce poverty, food and nutrition insecurity, and enable expansion of exports.
SADC said in its most recent Food Security Update that people at risk of food insecurity in Zimbabwe were up by 32% compared to last year.
Even though Tobacco and Cotton were doing well in Zimbabwe, the larger-scale mechanised farming needed for Maize had also been a drawback.
The solution would for now would be to better empower smallholder farming in the country by creating a market that encouraged local purchasing, instead of a reliance on imports.
From our correspondent