1.5m need food aid in rural Zim

food_aid_womanHARARE An estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans are said to require foodassistance in rural areas until

the next harvest in March as aid agencies last week predicted a widening shortfall in food handouts.

The US-funded Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) said a significant number of people in the rural areas were at risk of food insecurity between this month and March when they are expected to start harvesting crops from the fields.

The early warning system said the rural food insecure population has grown by more than 37 percent since the last quarter of 2009 when it was pegged at about 1.14 million.

This is projected to increase to 1.57 million between January and March 2010, FEWSNET said.

The United Nations World Food Programme and C?SAFE have already intervened with food aid in the most?affected areas.

The total number of beneficiaries as of January was about 1.5 million.

FEWSNET painted a bleak picture on the rural food security prospects for this year, noting that poor rainfall and subsequently lowered prospects for the 2009/10 cropping season were expected to result in a reduced green harvest from mid?February to April and the main harvest from April through June, particularly in the southern half and eastern parts of the country.

Food aid programmes are also likely to kick in earlier than usual in these areas, the organisation observed.

The outlook is forecast to be a bit brighter in urban areas where just over 600 000 people are estimated to need food aid during the next month.

According to Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) urban assessment, about 64 percent of urban households are engaged in urban agriculture.

Most poor urban households currently depend on the market for staple cereals but despite the continued availability of staple cereals and other basic foodstuffs on the market, ZIMVAC said about 600 000 poor people in urban areas found it difficult to purchase all the food they required due to relatively high levels of unemployment and underemployment.

FEWSNET said the national staple cereal deficit was estimated at between 109 950 and 298 950 metric tonnes (MT) for the 2009/10 consumption year.

Commercial imports remain significantly lower than those at the same time last year although these would be enough to close the anticipated cereal deficit if maintained at currently levels until April.

It is worrying, however, that WFP anticipates a pipeline break in cereals in February 2010 and corn soya blend porridge in April 2010.

The total shortfalls between January and June 2010 are estimated to total 20 500 MT, FEWSNET said.

The FEWSNET report came as Agriculture Minister Joseph Made announced last week that Zimbabwe was in the process of conducting a crop assessment exercise to gauge the countrys food requirements.

Made said the food assessment exercise was being carried out in conjunction with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

The assessment, due to be completed in about two weeks time, will establish the potential food deficit and help the government and relief agencies determine how much food aid is required.

Although the country has recorded some rainfall over the past week, the rains have come too late with crops in several parts of the country said to be under severe stress and wilting.

Zimbabwe has faced food shortages for the past decade which critics chiefly blame on President Robert Mugabes chaotic and often bloody farm redistribution programme.

The land reforms, which Mugabe says were necessary to correct a colonial land ownership system that reserved the best land for whites and banished blacks to poor soils, saw white commercial farmers expelled and their farms parcelled out to black villagers who lack financial resources and skills to maintain production.

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