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NGO ban starting to bite

Home based care workers on their rounds in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe. In southern Africa the volume of people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS has overwhelmed public health systems and social services. Community organisations, church groups and nongovern
Home based care workers on their rounds in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe (Obinna Anyadike/IRIN)

The ban on non-governmental organisation (NGO) activities in the lead-up to the second round of voting in the presidential ballot is beginning to bite, according to Zimbabwe's communal farmers, who are weathering the worst food shortages in living memory.  

Alleging political bias, the government suspended all NGO activities, but the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claims the ban was instituted to try and hide the political violence unleashed against its supporters after the 29 March general elections, in which President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF lost control of parliament for the first time since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980.

Neither Mugabe nor MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was able to win 50 percent plus one vote in the first round of voting to elect Zimbabwe's president, necessitating a second round of voting on 27 June, from which Tsvangirai withdrew after more than 80 MDC supporters were murdered and tens of thousands of people displaced by violence, allegedly by ZANU-PF militia.

Hansen Chipembere, 60, a small-scale farmer in the Zvinyaningwe area of Masvingo Province, about 60km from the provincial capital, Masvingo, told IRIN: "We are an unlucky lot. This year has been the worst ever for us, and that is when authorities decide our benefactors (NGOs) should stop assisting. You can smell the hunger as you move around."

''This year has been the worst ever for us, and that is when authorities decide our benefactors (NGOs) should stop assisting.  You can smell the hunger as you move around''

He inherited the land from his father five years ago, but had worked the smallholding outside the old asbestos mining town of Mashava for 40 years. During that time, he had never witnessed such levels of crop failure as that experienced during the 2007/08 season.

The poor harvest is being blamed on a combination of heavy rains at the beginning of the planting season, followed by a prolonged dry spell, as well as the lack of agricultural inputs, such as fertilisers and seed, leaving farmers without food to feed themselves or any surplus to produce an income.  

Chipembere told IRIN that government's agricultural planners had consistently failed to heed the advice of smallholder farmers, which would have made them less vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather.  

His 50ha smallholding hugs Muzhwi dam, built at a cost of US$5.8 million a decade ago primarily to augment water supplies to the sugar estates in the Lowveld, 500km south of the capital, Harare, but also to irrigate communal lands.

"We can only watch and admire the scenery while we scrounge for food. That body of water could alleviate our plight," Chipembere commented. For the past three years he and other communal farmers have travelled to Masvingo to try and persuade agricultural planners to design an irrigation scheme suitable for their area.

"We were frustrated by the bureaucracy and gave up after spending a lot of money on bus fares, and investing a lot of time in trying to get the officials to act," Benjamin Guruva, a smallholder farmer whose plot borders Muzhwi dam, told IRIN. "We have the farming experience but have been completely left out of the government scheme."

Food promised

British cabinet minister Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development, which promotes poverty alleviation and development in poor countries, has promised US$18 million to the World Food Programme to provide for the millions of people expected to require food assistance. Alexander also called on Zimbabwe to lift the ban on NGOs, so that aid could reach those in need and facing starvation.

The bulk of the funding will be used to provide food, but a proportion will be used to strengthen WFP monitoring systems to prevent political interference and ensure that the food is received by all those who require it.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) crop assessment forecast, released in June 2008, projected that about 5.1 million Zimbabweans will suffer food insecurity.

"The Mission estimates that 2.04 million people in rural and urban areas will be food insecure between July and September 2008, rising to 3.8 million people between October and peaking to about 5.1 million at the height of the hungry season between January and March 2009," the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission  to Zimbabwe said.

Zimbabwe's population is estimated at about 12 million people, but this does not take into account the more than three million people thought to have left the country since 2000 as a result of mounting economic and political instability.  

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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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