LONDON, UK, March 8, 2005 (ENS): Zimbabwe's
ruling ZANU PF government this month admitted that it
faces serious food shortages ahead of the traditional
May harvest, confounding President Robert Mugabe's frequent
boasts of an expected bumper harvest.
A statement carried in the state controlled "Herald"
newspaper said that about 1.5 million people would need
emergency supplies of maize corn, the staple diet, in
the western and eastern provinces of Matabeleland and
But the main famine and weather-monitoring organization
in southern Africa said the situation was many times
worse than indicated by the government mouthpiece. The
Johannesburg-based Famine Early Warning System Network,
FEWSNET, said 4.8 million Zimbabweans, nearly half the
current population, urgently require food aid or they
FEWSNET confirmed that the situation was particularly
serious in rural areas of the drier provinces of Matabeleland,
Masvingo and Manicaland and also in some parts of the
lower Zambezi Valley. But the food situation is also
deteriorating in towns, where inflation of 400 percent
is causing food prices to skyrocket against falling
real incomes, FEWSNET said.
For almost two years, the government has claimed Zimbabwe
had sufficient homegrown maize to feed its 11.5 million
Last year, Mugabe told British television, "We
are not hungry. Why foist this food on us? We don't
want to be choked. We have enough." His statement
caused fear among donors that millions would possibly
Mugabe's hard line information minister Jonathan Moyo,
sacked last month, used the state controlled press to
say the country would produce about 2.4 million metric
tons of maize this summer season, more than the country's
normal 1.8 million ton requirement. The harvest will,
in fact, be less than 850,000 tons, according to independent
Bulawayo City Council reported in the minutes of its
last meeting that at least 10 people, most of them children
under five, were known to have died recently of starvation.
Mayor Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube said many more would perish
in the coming months from illnesses induced by lack
Archbishop Pius Ncube, the outspoken Roman Catholic
prelate of Bulawayo, accused Mugabe of withholding food
for electoral purposes, distributing it only in areas
where people could be bribed to vote for the ruling
ZANU PF party. "They want to control the food and
politicize it," he said. "They'd rather kill
people for the sake of power."
Many other critics of the troubled southern African
nation say Zimbabwe's food security has been heavily
compromised by politics and propaganda.
On the one hand, Mugabe cannot accept food aid from
the same western governments he accuses of trying to
"recolonize" his country. On the other, ZANU
PF must show the world that its often violent seizure
of about 4,000 white owned farms has, far from leading
to food shortages, led to a food surplus.
Nevertheless, in January, maize meal again disappeared
from supermarket shelves in towns across the country.
The much promised food surplus had come to nothing and
disgruntled shoppers were forced to buy imported rice
or flour at prices they could barely afford. Thousands
of once productive fields throughout the country have
turned brown and are overgrown with weeds.
Paul Themba Nyathi, spokesman for the main opposition
party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said, "The
government is already using food as an election weapon.
It is telling communities, 'If you vote against the
government, if you vote for the opposition, you won't
The shortage prompted the government to blame millers,
accusing them of stockpiling maize in an effort to force
a price increase.
Zimbabwe's independent press took up the issue for
the first time in January. The weekly "Zimbabwe
Independent" pointed out that the South African
Grain Information Service, Sagis, published weekly statistics
on grain and wheat exports to the region. Zimbabwe was
the biggest recipient of both maize and wheat, some
of it imported from as far away as Argentina.
Commercial Farmers' Union economist Kuda Ndoro said
that food imports to Zimbabwe continue unabated.
"If you go to the government Grain Marketing Board
depot in Harare, you'll see queues of trucks from Zambia
and South Africa," Ndoro said. "They're all
loaded with maize and wheat."
Since Zimbabwe's farm invasions began in February 2000,
the country has lost its status as the region's breadbasket.
From a net exporter of food, it now imports to feed
its increasingly impoverished millions.
Meanwhile tobacco, the commodity that once drove the
country's economy, has slumped to a meager output of
about 60 million kilograms, down from more than 230
million five years ago.
Once the world's number two producer of high grade
Virginia leaf, Zimbabwe no longer produces a crop of
either quality or weight. ZANU PF's self-styled war
veterans have forced some 1,400 large scale tobacco
growers off their farms. Scores of farmers and their
families stood helplessly by while angry mobs destroyed
homes and pillaged equipment.
As many as a million farm workers and their families
may have been made homeless in a process that saw thousands
tortured, beaten and raped while workers' houses were
burned to the ground by angry mobs of ZANU PF supporters.
The result has been predictable, economists say. Tobacco,
the engine that has driven the economy since the 1960s,
has failed. Efforts by the central bank to revive the
crop will not succeed, say ex-farmers. A program ambitiously
called "Vision 160" unveiled by central bank
governor Gideon Gono aimed to increase production to
160 million kilograms of the golden leaf. But coal shortages
for curing and fertilizer shortages are likely to lead
to an even smaller crop this year.
"It's more likely to be closer to 40 million kilograms,"
said ex-farmer and member of lobby group Justice for
Agriculture Bruce Gemmill. "There are no proper
inputs and the new farmers lack the capital to borrow
enough to grow a sizeable crop."
The demise of Zimbabwe's farming sector has seen white
farmers head for the diaspora.
Deprived of their livelihoods, some have moved into
the capital Harare to start new businesses. Others have
been welcomed elsewhere in Africa. Hundreds of farmers
moved to neighboring Zambia, others to Mozambique, Botswana
and Malawi. Others have gone further still to Nigeria.
Some African leaders have encouraged Zimbabwe's farmers
to move, but, fearful of criticism from Mugabe, have
done so discreetly. In Nigeria, farmers can claim up
to 1,000 hectares of fertile land and borrow over US$1
million at very low rates to get them started in the
continent's most populous nation.
"It's an attractive offer," said Gemmill.
"The markets up there are enormous and the demand
for food huge."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All