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Hunger spreading in south

People have to borrow cereals such as maize.
(Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN)

Tedius Bere, 31, from Chivi District in Zimbabwe’s southeastern Masvingo Province, recently travelled to the capital Harare to ask for his brother’s help to buy food for his family, whom he had left in Chivi with only enough maize meal for two days.

“I had no choice but to ask my brother for money… because we are facing real starvation,” Bere told IRIN as he laboured to load two 50kg bags of maize meal onto the roof of the bus he would use to return home.

His 3.2 hectare plot of maize was severely affected by a prolonged dry spell that hit the district in late January. “I did not manage to harvest a single cob,” he said, adding that most of his neighbours and many families in surrounding communities failed to harvest much this year and were facing a similar predicament.

Bere’s brother, who is employed as a driver by an NGO, has a wife and four children of his own to look after, as well as other dependants from the extended family, but he has pledged to make sure his sibling’s family has enough to eat until the next harvest, which is still about eight months away.

Those families in Chivi who cannot rely on cash handouts from relatives to get them through the region’s perennial dry spells and poor harvests are often forced to sell off their livestock to buy basic commodities.

An informal survey by IRIN revealed that many households from the country’s drought-prone southern provinces are in urgent need of food aid following the failure of their crops during the 2010-11 farming season.

Fungai Mabachi, 35, from the populous suburb of Highfield in Harare, recently received a distress call from her mother who is caring for her two school-going daughters in her home district of Mwenezi, also in Masvingo Province.

“My mother sent a relative with a letter saying she will be needing food in the next few weeks because the maize she managed to get from her meagre harvest was running out. I told her that I would do my best, but as a vegetable vendor going through a hard time, I doubt that I will manage,” Mabachi told IRIN.

She said she had heard that many areas in the district were facing hunger, adding that only those with irrigation schemes appeared to be safe.

Tariro Mutsvanga, 42, a single mother of two from Shurugwi, about 120km east of Gweru, capital of Midlands Province, told IRIN that only a handful of households in her village of more than 800 homesteads had enough food to see them through to the next harvest.

“You can count the number of people who will have enough food on your fingers. These are the people who planted early enough and were therefore not severely affected by the dry spell,” she said.

WFP waits for assessment results

The World Food Programme (WFP), which helps food insecure communities during lean periods through a targeted assistance programme, told IRIN it was awaiting the findings of the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) report to determine which areas required food aid.

“At this stage, we do not have the beneficiary numbers since we do not have the ZIMVAC results,” said Robert Makasi, WFP senior programme assistant.

The ZIMVAC report is usually based on inter-agency assessments by WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), NGOs and government, but this year the government excluded traditional partners on the basis of “national security” and the report, which was expected to be released in July, has yet to be published.

However, other government survey results indicate that Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South, Manicaland and pockets of the Midlands and Mashonaland provinces were affected by poor rainfall, and a recent WFP exercise revealed that extensive crop failure in some districts would make food assistance necessary for nine instead of the usual four months. Makasi estimated that WFP would need about US$59 million for the programme for the period between November 2011 and March 2012.

The Agriculture Ministry has estimated a total cereal harvest of 1.6 million tons which represents an increase of 6 percent from the 2009-10 farming season. However, some NGOs argue that food insecurity is more severe than the government’s food and crop assessments suggest.

Appeal

In early August, international humanitarian agencies launched an appeal for US$488 million to meet Zimbabwe’s immediate needs through the Consolidated Appeal Process, the humanitarian community's most important fundraising instrument. The amount is $73 million more than the original request made in December last year, partly because of concerns about food security.

The US-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said in its July 2011 report that most urban and rural households had stable food stocks but warned that food insecurity would affect many areas in the coming months as cereal stocks dwindled.

According to FEWS NET, this year’s cereal harvest leaves a deficit of 70,000 tons which would need to be offset through imports, local purchases and humanitarian aid.

FEWS NET warned, however, that the reinstatement of duties on basic commodities such as cooking oil and maize, which had been lifted more than two years ago to encourage imports, might adversely affect the price and availability of food, especially between October and December 2011 when many districts in drought-prone provinces are expected to have exhausted their household cereal stocks.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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