Zimbabwe's current food crisis is the worst since government records began and is expected to worsen as summer crops will feed no more than 28 percent of the population according to an alert just issued by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWSNET. Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare that Zimbabwe will now have to import a massive amount of food, particularly since it has ordered non-governmental organizations to stop distributing emergency food aid.
Fewsnet provides detailed information about food security in Zimbabwe and many other African countries. The U.S.-funded agency says Zimbabwe's 2008 cereal crops were the worst since records began even though the country's farmers plant more acres.
Fewsnet says that exceptionally heavy rain, then a long dry spell, as well as the government's failure to make esssential farming resources available, all contributed to record low yields.
It says in its report that humanitarian agencies will have to play an increased role until next summer's harvest which begins in April of 2009.
Fewsnet predicted there would be political interference in food distribution.
On Thursday the government instructed international food agencies to withdraw from field work.
Zimbabwe's "Lawyers for Human Rights" says it has studied the letter written to the non governmental sector, and says reasons provided by welfare minister Nicholas Goche, have no basis in law. Goche charged the non-governmental sector had promoted the opposition Movement for Democratic Change ahead of the March 29 elections.
Nevertheless, the aid agencies, which have denied Goche's allegations, have chosen not to challenge his instructions. Many of them are withdrawing personnel and infrastructure from their field posts.
People working in aid agencies in Zimbabwe believe they have been closed down for two reasons. The first they say, is because they are witnesses to what goes on in the rural areas. The second is that they believe that President Robert Mugabe's government will soon begin food distribution ahead of the second round of the presidential election on June 27.
The runoff election became necessary because, although opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat President Robert Mugabe, he did not win more than 50 percent of votes cast.
The United Nations in Zimbabwe estimates that an average of about four million people will be affected by the government ban on aid agency work. Among them will be 185,000 children and tens of thousands of people receiving anti retroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS who need constant monitoring according to the Zimbabwe AIDS Council.