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Zimbabwe Food Security Remains Precarious Ahead of Harvest

USAID's Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWSNET, has listed Zimbabwe as a food emergency country in its latest assessment. FEWSNET says 52 percent of the rural population survived the first months of 2006 because of international food aid.

Zimbabwe's food situation in both urban and rural areas remained precarious in 2006. FEWSNET said the availability of the staple food, corn meal, was erratic and grossly inadequate throughout the country.

The shortages continue despite imports of more than 800,000 tons of corn from neighboring South Africa in the past year.

Except for one or two districts most of Zimbabwe has had adequate rain this season.

But small-scale and new farmers struggled to get seed and fertilizer, which was in short supply, and many planted their corn too late for good results, according to the Commercial Farmers Union.

Nevertheless, latest crop estimates show that Zimbabwe may have grown substantially more corn than the previous season, and it may only be short about one-third of the corn it needs for human consumption.

International donors say they are not sure of the exact size of the corn harvest, but early indications are that they may have to feed far less than the approximately four million people now receiving their help.

Distribution of emergency food aid always drops off during harvest, which begins within weeks. Donors say they hope to feed a maximum of two million people until the next harvest in 2007.

Zimbabwe's agricultural production collapsed after President Robert Mugabe began confiscating white-owned commercial farms in 2000. These farms produced more than 40 percent of Zimbabwe's export earnings, and now the country is critically short of foreign currency.

Until the seizures began, Zimbabwe had been self sufficient in food for decades.

FEWSNET says that the high price of corn meal means many people are unable to afford it. Zimbabwe's inflation is now 782 percent per year. FEWSNET reports independent economists say as the economy continues to falter, inflation is unlikely to slow in the near future.