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Zimbabwe Tells Donors It Needs No Cash for Food Imports - 2004-09-22

The Zimbabwe Government has now officially informed Western donors that it has had a bumper harvest and will need no food aid for the foreseeable future. A letter from the welfare ministry has been delivered to donor agencies telling them that Zimbabwe grew 2.4 million tons of maize last summer.

A letter addressed to donor organizations, dated August 26 and signed by welfare minister Paul Mangwana, has now sealed the doors to any intervention by non-governmental organizations in addressing the shortage of food in many parts of Zimbabwe.

In its latest monthly report, The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a long-trusted food security monitoring group across the region, said scarcity of food is emerging in a growing number of rural areas in Zimbabwe and more and more urban people can not afford to buy food from the shops. It says it is not sure how much grain is in storage at the Grain Marketing Board because those statistics are no longer freely available.

The figure of 2.4 million tons of maize for last summer's harvest can not be accurate, according to crop analysts referring to data collected over the last 30 years, as well as estimates of the harvest by the United Nations and other groups.

The government's figure indicates a larger harvest than in any previous season, even when the agricultural sector was in its best shape. Now about 80 percent of Zimbabwe's best land is unused, following the resettlement of new farmers onto former commercial farms over the past four years. Most of them have neither the financing nor the farming skills to grow more than a few bags of maize.

Information minister Jonathan Moyo is reported in the Wednesday edition of the government-controlled Herald newspaper, as saying that no food imports are necessary, or planned, because Zimbabwe has produced 2.4 million tons.

But according to information released to the state media recently, the government's Grain Marketing Board, the only legal grain trader in Zimbabwe, has less than 300,000 tons in stock. Mr. Moyo says farmers are keeping grain at home this year. Statistics from previous years indicate grain farmers have traditionally held on to some stocks for home consumption, but sold the rest to generate cash for items like school fees and essential items.

The United Nations World Food Program announced recently it had reduced its staff in Zimbabwe by nearly half. Its operations were geared to feed more than five million people, or nearly half the population, at the peak of food shortages during the last three years.

The government says if people do need food aid, it will do the job itself, from its own homegrown stocks. But well-placed sources close to food distribution agencies say the government does not have the resources or infrastructure to deliver food if another food crisis happens, which they say could be in December. Additionally, non-governmental organizations say it will take several months for the World Food Program to raise donor funds and become fully operational again, if the food runs out.