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Zimbabwe Announces No Need for Food Aid - 2004-04-26

The Zimbabwean government has announced that it will not require food aid because of what it calls a bumper harvest this year. But World Food Program officials say they will not accept the government's harvest projections until they conduct their own checks.

Most of Zimbabwe received above-average rainfall during the rainy season, which is now tailing off. The communal area 140 kilometers northeast of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, is no exception.

It was one of the areas hardest hit by the droughts of the past two rainy seasons, and nearly half of the district's 100,000 residents receive food aid from the U.N. World Food Program.

Maize, which is the staple food of the majority of Zimbabweans, is ready in the fields and most people are busy harvesting. But it is clear that most of the people will not harvest much.

One of the village heads in the area, who asked to remain anonymous for his own security, explained why. "There is a major food shortage here, we did get enough rain, but we had no fertilizer. A very few people did get some on credit, but the majority of us got nothing," he said.

The village head said that what is being harvested now may last up to July at most, and he hoped that food donations would resume. He added that even if there is going to be enough food in the shops, most people in his area have no source of income. "If the WFP abandons us we are all going to die of starvation," he said.

Some of the villagers said yields would be higher in some of the areas resettled under President Robert Mugabe's controversial land-reform program, since the new farmers were mostly employed people who could afford farm supplies.

A WFP program officer who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity said that while there were people who will not harvest enough, this does not mean national food insecurity.

But the WFP official said it was still too early to talk about quantities, and that the U.N. agency will carry out its own assessment in conjunction with the Food and Agricultural Organization, rather than relying upon the Harare government's projections.

The Zimbabwe government says that even if the harvest falls short of what is needed, it will import the balance.

The WFP says that although it is winding down its general food distribution program for the time being, it will review the situation after the results of its assessment are known in June.

Officials also said targeted groups such as AIDS sufferers, schoolchildren, and the malnourished will continue receiving assistance.