Zimbabwe’s summer rains have started but many peasant farmers have no seed to plant crops and many families, particularly in the south of the country, are desperately hungry because their crops failed last year. The Solidarity Peace Trust produced a detailed report this week about rural poverty in southern Zimbabwe and said the situation was so bad that South Africa should stop deporting Zimbabweans as their families at home cannot feed them.
Solidarity Peace Trust, the South Africa-based rights group, has been monitoring hungry families in the dry, southern part of Zimbabwe where there is desperate poverty, especially in the Matabeleland South province.
Shari Eppel, the group's director in the city of Bulawayo, said that seeds and fertilizer, known in farming circles as "inputs," are not available to produce the staple food of maize.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti allocated money to buy inputs for the country’s poorest 100,000 farmers, and subsidized inputs for a further half-million vulnerable farmers, but officials have apparently not yet located and distributed the materials.
Eppel said Zimbabwe’s meteorological service and the Commercial Farmers Union agree that rains will be plentiful until year's end, so people must plant crops now as there will be little rain from January onwards.
"The problem which people are facing in Matabeleland South and I assume all over country is that there are no free inputs available and it is absolutely crucial that people plant now," said Shari Eppel.
She said research among some of the poorest families in Matabeleland South showed that many families are becoming ever weaker for lack of food, as crops failed because inputs were also late last year.
"Children were crying of hunger during interview sessions and by the second round of interviews in October adults were noticeably weaker," said Eppel. "This is a real concern when you have a family with children when there is no food whatsoever in the house, which is the situation at the moment."
Agriculture in Zimbabwe's tense inclusive government is controlled by President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. So far the ministry has not replied to questions about the missing inputs.
Many Zimbabweans whose applications to work in South Africa failed are being deported home at present. Eppel said South Africa should stop deporting them because their families were too poor to cope with another mouth to feed.
“I think it is disastrous at this state in terms of the additional pressure it is going to put on families," she said. "Those family members are returning to a situation of desperate poverty and it is simply going to exacerbate the desperate economic situation in the country.”
Eppel also said she is distressed at the lack of emergency food aid available for so many hungry Zimbabweans in the south of the country.