Zimbabwe’s food crisis intensifies

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Zimbabwe insists that it is prepared to deal with a deepening food crisis, but the UN says there’s little evidence that enough maize is coming in to the country to feed the drought-stricken nation’s 8.5 million people who are going hungry, nearly half the population.

Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Minister Perence Shiri said there was less than a month’s supply – 100 000 tons – of the staple grain, according to Zimbabwe’s NewsDay newspaper.

That compares with a supply gap that’s expected to be around 1 million tons. While the government said it had started importing food, UN officials say there’s no sign of it.

“The situation has not changed a bit,” Eddie Rowe, the UN World Food Programme’s country director in Zimbabwe, said on Wednesday.

“We don’t see anything coming in.”

The nation’s maize crop is expected to plunge by half this season owing to a drought that in some areas is the worst in 40 years. At the same time an economic collapse has seen food shortages spread from the rural areas to the cities for the first time.

While Zimbabwe is facing a severe deficit of foreign exchange that is hindering its ability to ensure adequate supplies of power, fuel and food, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said the government was making necessary arrangements for enough grain imports.

“Contracts have been signed and we are already importing food. It’s already arriving,” Ncube said.

He said maize was being imported from an Atlantic market, where Mexico is the only major producer of the white variety favoured by consumers in southern Africa. Grain is being shipped through the Mozambican Port of Beira, by road from Tanzania and through South Africa, he said.

“The country is not at risk of famine.

“We are well organised. We are ready and we also appreciate the international community’s support. We understand what’s going on,” Ncube insisted.

In times of need Zimbabwe has traditionally bought South African maize or used its agents to bring in grain by sea to its ports, the biggest and most efficient in the region.

Statistics from the SA Grain Information Service show that from April 27 to January 17 no corn was imported via local ports for export to other nations. South Africa did ship about 60 000 tons of its locally produced maize to Zimbabwe.

While Zimbabwe bought 100 000 tons of maize and received it from Tanzania last year, it hadn’t been in contact with the country since, said Japhet Hasunga, Tanzania’s agriculture minister. In any event, Tanzania is limiting exports to build its own reserves, he said.

Cornelder de Mocambique, which operates the port in Beira, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Zimbabwe’s finance ministry didn’t respond to a request for more details on shipments. – Bloomberg

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