ZANU PF's Agriculture Minister, Joseph Made, has barred international aid agencies and other NGOs from participating in food assessment surveys in Zimbabwe, claiming the groups send out 'negative information'.
Made told the IRIN humanitarian news service that United Nations (UN) groups in particular, "are not welcome" in Zimbabwe, and called the food and crop assessments "a national security matter that should be treated with the utmost caution and exclusivity."
"Hence our decision as government to exclude outsiders from the surveys. UN agencies in particular are not welcome because they send out negative information about the country. We don't want to have politics in food issues," Made is quoted as saying.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), usually join forces with the government and NGOs to compile the assessments, which forecast food shortages in the country. A recent assessment reported by the Famine Early Warnings Systems Network (FEWSNET) has said that almost two million Zimbabweans are in need of food aid.
David Mfote, from the FAO Zimbabwe country office, told IRIN by email: "Unfortunately, we are not in a position to give you answers [to questions relating to the crop and livestock assessments], mainly because as for this year, government carried out the first crop assessment on its own. The same is also applying for the second crop assessment. As a result, we have not been able to travel to the countryside to assess the crop situation."
Meanwhile a WFP official, contacted by SW Radio Africa on Thursday, declined to comment.
The President of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), Deon Theron, told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that the decision to bar the UN groups from food surveys "is connected to the political situation that is unfolding at the moment."
"We are definitely in pre-election mode, and one thing we do know is that food is always used as a political tool during elections," Theron said.
Food has historically been used by ZANU PF, with party members and supporters being rewarded with food stocks and the opposition being starved. Theron said that, by refusing to disclose the current levels of food, it will be difficult to trace how ZANU PF has distributed food during a possible election.
"We don't know what they are going to do yet, but we are worried that once again food will be used as a political weapon," Theron said.