The organization monitoring for drought in southern Africa has issued its first warning of the year for Zimbabwe, which has already been hit hard by food shortages.
The current rainy season was supposed to bring a respite to the region, but the Southern African Development Community (SADC) drought monitoring unit in Harare has issued its first warning of the 2002-2003 rainfall season, and the news is not good for Zimbabwe.
The warning predicts below normal rainfall for southwestern Zimbabwe, a part of the country where agricultural production is marginal even in a good year. It forecasts normal and above normal rainfall for the rest of the country.
The minister of agriculture is quoted by the state owned daily newspaper, The Herald, as saying that as a result of the warning, the government is extending maize importation beyond March. Maize must be imported using foreign currency, which is also in short supply. Normally, Zimbabwe is a maize exporter.
The World Food Program has already said nearly seven million Zimbabweans will need food aid at least until the next harvest in early 2003. But if forecasts of below normal rainfall in some parts of Zimbabwe prove to be accurate, the country may need food aid for much longer.
Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic crisis since independence 22 years ago. Along with five other southern African countries, Zimbabwe is still feeling the effects of last year's drought. In addition, aid agencies say Zimbabwe's controversial land reform program launched by President Robert Mugabe in 2000 has also hurt agricultural output.
The Commercial Farmers Union has issued a statement saying that wheat deliveries to the Grain Marketing Board this year will be only half of what they have been in past years.
Zimbabwe imports wheat every year, but next year it will need more than usual.
Most of the white commercial farmers lost their land in the reforms, and the black farmers who took over have not planted much due to inexperience and the high price of seed, fertilizer and other supplies.
The low wheat harvest has resulted in a bread shortage for the last several months. It takes several hours of standing in line to buy bread in Zimbabwe.