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Zimbabwe Needs Food Aid for 1.7 Million People Next Year

There’s good news and bad news about Zimbabwe’s food security situation. A new U.N. report says while it’s improved significantly, about 1.7 million people will still need assistance.

The report released Tuesday is based on an assessment mission by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food program (WFP).

The poorest of the poor

WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon, in Nairobi, says, “It is still a mixed picture.” That’s despite government efforts and a (US) $70 million international assistance program to subsidize farmers.

“The area planted under maize, which is Zimbabwe’s main staple, increased by 20 percent in 2010 to the highest level in 30 years. Production rose 7 percent over production in 2009. Therefore, although they planted 20 percent more, production only went up 7 percent,” he says.

While the figure is up from 2009 and a major improvement over the “disastrous” harvest of 2008, Smerdon says, “Zimbabwe still cannot feed itself. And therefore, in the coming year, they will need to feed 1.68 million people. That’s more than 10 percent of the entire population with food assistance, which will have to be brought in by international organizations. And this is mainly to feed the poorest of the poor.”

Humanitarian aid, yes…development, no

“There has been a continued commitment to funding humanitarian operations in Zimbabwe, including food assistance. But the problem is that many donors are still not providing development aid,” he says.

Smerdon adds, “We are confident that our donors, who in the past years have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to WFP for life saving operations in Zimbabwe, will continue to support our operations there.”

He says despite the fact that there’s a unity government in Zimbabwe, donors remain reluctant to fund development programs. Many donor nations have been sharply critical of President Robert Mugabe’s policies. Mr. Mugabe, in turn, has blamed Zimbabwe’s economic woes on the West and its sanctions.

Buy local

The WFP and FAO estimate 133,000 tons of food aid will be needed. Much of that aid may be close at hand, since Zimbabwe borders South Africa.

“There’s another record harvest coming up in South Africa now. What we would hope to do is buy (food) as close to Zimbabwe as possible because that obviously brings down transport costs, etc. And means that we can feed more people with the same amount of money,” he says.

Some donors, though, prefer giving food aid rather than cash.

“We wouldn’t refuse that. The United States, for instance, is a very large donor to our operations in Zimbabwe. So we would take both (food and cash), but we would prefer if possible to have cash as that enables us to buy locally and help the regional economy development,” says Smerdon.