Nearly 1.7 million Zimbabweans will require food assistance in the 2010/11 season despite the recent recovery of the country’s troubled agriculture sector, United Nations agencies said in a report.
Agriculture plumbed new depths in 2008 when farmers produced 500,000 tonnes of the staple maize against national requirements of 2 million tonnes, but production has since picked up in the past two years to 1.35 million tonnes.
International aid targeting provisions of free seed and fertilisers for farmers in the once famine-threatened country, better use of land, and the end of hyperinflation have led to the improvement in harvests, Reuters reports.
“Despite the improved availability of food, up to 1.68 million people will need food assistance because prices remain comparatively high for families with low incomes and little or no access to US dollars or South African rand,” co-author Jan Delbaere of the UN World Food Programme said in the report.
Zimbabwe discarded the use of its worthless dollar last year after inflation reached 500 billion percent, but few US dollars or rand circulate in rural areas.
A Food and Agriculture Organisation official said in the same report that Zimbabwe had 1.66 million tons of cereals available against a total need of 2.9 million tonnes for 2010/11, leaving a shortfall of 428,000 tonnes.
A Malawian government minister said last week the country would export 300,000 tonnes of its surplus maize to Zimbabwe.
The UN report said general poverty and food insecurity had contributed to increased prevalence of chronic malnutrition in young children.
Once a regional bread basket, Zimbabwe has failed to feed itself since 2000 following President Robert Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned commercial farms for black resettlement, leading to sharp falls in production.