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» 02.03.2010 - Obama extends Zim sanctions for another year
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» 03.02.2010 - Zimbabwe needs 500 000 tonnes of maize

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Politics | Agriculture - Nutrition

Zimbabwe food insecurity deeper than expected

afrol News, 7 October - Maize prices are already 34 percent higher than foreseen for this time of the year by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC). With prices running this high, a new report assesses that food needs in Zimbabwe "are higher than originally projected," thus documenting the ongoing food crisis denied by Harare authorities.

The Zimbabwean Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is currently selling maize - the country's main staple food - at a 34 percent higher price than what the VAC had assumed for this time of year when it made its projections that about 2.3 million rural people would require a total of 178,000 tonnes of food assistance. "Therefore, it is likely that needs are higher than originally projected," food security analyst hold.

The GMB is a quasi-governmental institution with the sole rights in the country to buy, sell, import and export maize. Prices set by the GMB thus reflect the maize availability in Zimbabwe and are decisive for the country's many food insecure households.

Harare authorities earlier this year ceased their cooperation with international food security monitoring agencies, such as the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), claiming that Zimbabwe this year would be able to feed its own population. Zimbabwe VAC earlier this year however assumed that 2.3 million Zimbabweans would need food aid.

Even this number now seems too low, according to the latest monthly report on food security in Zimbabwe by the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS). The report, released today, holds that food requirements for the poor, earlier set at 178,000 tonnes, now "must have gone up." Rapidly rising maize prices further indicated that the GMB had insufficient supplies to cover for the growing food insecurity.

According to the FEWS report, it is in particular the poor urban households that are now struck by the hiking staple food prices. "In urban areas household purchasing power has been continuously eroded by hyper inflation, estimated at 314.4 percent," the report says. Although annual inflation has now dropped significantly, "it still remains too high," FEWS observes.

The cost of the monthly expenditure basket for a low income urban household of six, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), went up by about 65 percent between January and August 2004. The minimum industrial monthly wage, despite increasing, could only cover about 31 percent of the August 2004 CCZ expenditure basket, down from 33 percent in July 2004.

High unemployment, estimated officially at over 60 percent, and the continuing decline in national economic output, were further worsening the situation of urban households. According to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe is even facing an "85 percent unemployment rate." Zimbabwe's economic and political crisis had made food availability drop 60 percent since 1999, according to Mr Tsvangirai.

In contemporary Zimbabwe, this has led to peculiar demographic trends. An estimated 4 million citizens have left the country. Unlike almost every other part of Africa, the migration from rural to urban areas has begun to switch directions in Zimbabwe, and significant urban to rural migration is occurring as urban households are failing to cope with food security.

According to the FEWS report, "food is still readily available in most rural areas of the country." In the traditionally grain surplus areas of Mashonaland, Midlands and Manicaland Provinces most households are still relying on their own production from last season's harvest, the US agency says.

But also here, food supplies could soon come to an end. "A significant proportion of the 2004 winter wheat crop is at risk of being spoiled by the on-coming rains due to the shortage of harvesting equipment and the prohibitive cost of hiring the available limited combine harvesters," the report warns. A large proportion of this year's wheat crop had been planted too late.

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