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ZIMBABWE: Widespread food shortages looming

JOHANNESBURG , 17 July 2009 (IRIN) - Large-scale food assistance to Zimbabweans could start in the next few weeks, according to a USAID situation report released on 16 July.

Zimbabwe's April 2009 harvest, although considerably better than in previous seasons, was still 680,000 tons short of the national requirement. Initial estimates in a crop report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) are that about 2.8 million people will need food assistance in 2009/10.

At the height of the 2009 lean season - the few months prior to harvest - nearly seven million people required food aid, a figure that gradually escalated from the FAO/WFP June 2008 projection that about 5.1 million Zimbabweans would suffer food insecurity.

Approximately 600,000 vulnerable people are currently receiving food aid, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance.

However, economic conditions have changed since 2008 and foreign currencies, such as the South African rand and US dollar, have replaced the Zimbabwean dollar, making private-sector imports of cereals easier.

"FAO estimates private sector commercial imports for 2009/2010 of approximately 500,000mt, lowering the forecast deficit to 180,000mt," said the USAID situation report.

"Although food security in Zimbabwe has improved in 2009, relief agencies predict the need for a large-scale food assistance programme starting in August or September, when food stores from the April 2009 harvest will likely be exhausted."

WFP spokesman Richard Lee told IRIN a Vulnerability Assessment Committee would survey Zimbabwe's food requirements in August "to give a better picture" of the country's needs and the options available, which "may not be just straight food assistance".

He said private-sector imports would alleviate Zimbabwe's food shortages but, like the rest of the southern African region, the availability of food did not mean that people could afford to pay for it.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Food Security

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