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Zimbabwe Formally Asks UN for Food Aid

The World Food Program says more than five million people in Zimbabwe, almost half the population, will need food aid from the international community between now and the next grain harvest in April of next year.

This is the second year in a row that the international community is being asked to supply food to millions of Zimbabweans. The United Nations said this week that the worst affected are hundreds of thousands of former workers from commercial farms.

There are several reasons for Zimbabwe's food crisis. President Robert Mugabe launched a land reform program in mid-2000, which has, in each season since then, seen less crops produced and foreign currency reserves plummet.

Economists say the program, which saw more than 90 percent of productive white farmers evicted from their land, is the major contributor to the collapse of the economy.

In addition, erratic rainfall is also blamed for the shortfall in production, as well the government's inability, because it lacked the money, to import agricultural products and equipment from abroad.

This week, World Food Program officials in Zimbabwe presided over a meeting of foreign donors to plan for yet another round of food shipments from abroad, leading to a peak in distribution between January and April next year.

The Zimbabwe government has formally asked the WFP for continued food aid, but has still not provided statistics on the latest harvest nor projections for summer plantings.

Up until three years ago, Zimbabwe was always able to feed itself, even when droughts hit, as it had enough money to import food when crops failed.

Now Zimbabwe's economy is the fastest shrinking in the world and the country does not have foreign currency to import a whole range of commodities from fuel to ink to print bank notes.

The World Food Program says the more than 200,000 workers who once worked on the commercial farms are particularly threatened. Not only did they lose their jobs when their employers' land was seized, they have not been allocated land on which to grow crops.

But people who live in the city are also suffering. Many of them lack basic foods, such as maize meal. Maize is available on the black market, but not many people in the city can afford to buy it.