The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says nearly 12 million people are in need of emergency food assistance in southern Africa. Most of them are in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

 In its final African food security report of the year, the FAO says the problem continues despite a bumper maize harvest in South Africa. Dr. Shukri Ahmed is an economist with the FAO?s Global Information and Early Warning System. From Rome, he first spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the food shortages in Zimbabwe.

?The main issue apart from the drought and certain parts that had been affected, there were micro-economic situations that have compounded and certainly policy issues that have compounded the problem affecting so many people. The food security situation there remains very serious. One is the insufficient grain supply on the market. The import requirement is huge?would the country be able to import that. If the country imports, would the people (be able to) afford to buy that. Do they have the purchasing power? What is the employment situation? What is the income situation? So all these factors have been compounding the overall food supply situation in the country,? he says.

The situation also continues to worsen in Malawi. Dr. Ahmed blames that on ?a combination of factors. Always there is a very poor season, which in normal circumstances need not translate into a crisis situation.?

However, he says the situation has been transformed into a crisis because the food security situation for Malawians has been deteriorating for quite some time. While the harvest problems can be attributed to drought, he admits food policies in Zimbabwe and Malawi may have made the situation worse.