Harare — A new report on food needs in Zimbabwe says that nearly one in five rural people in the country - an estimated 1.6 million people - are likely to need food assistance during the peak of the coming "hunger season." The number of people in need is 60 percent higher than the one million who needed food assistance during the last lean season.
The extent of the need is revealed in the just-published Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment (ZimVAC) report. The assessment, which estimates national food insecurity levels, is conducted annually by the Government in collaboration with UN agencies and non-governmental organisations.
"The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and our partners are gearing up to respond to this large rise in food needs," said WFP Country Director Felix Bamezon. "Our field staff are already reporting signs of distress in rural areas, including empty granaries and farmers selling off their livestock to make ends meet."
This year's cereals harvest was 1,076,772 metric tons - one-third lower than that of last year and the lowest since 2009. The impact will be felt hardest at the peak of the "hunger season," from January to March next year. WFP's seasonal assistance programme normally starts in October, but rural people already feeling the effects of the drought.
Various factors are being blamed for the deteriorating food security: erratic rainfall and dry spells, limited access to agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, a reduction in the planted area, poor farming practices and inadequate crop diversification.
To meet the increased needs, WFP and its partners will undertake food distributions with regionally procured cereals as well imported vegetable oil and pulses. Cash transfers will also be used in areas where there are functioning markets so that people have the flexibility to choose where and from whom they purchase their cereals.
Humanitarian and commercial cereal imports from neighbouring countries will be needed to meet Zimbabwe's food shortages in coming months - and in greater quantities than last year.
The report identifies Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South, and parts of Mashonaland, Midlands and Manicaland as the worst-affected areas.
WFP's Seasonal Targeted Assistance programme, due to run through till the end of March next year, has been budgeted at US$119 million but is currently facing a shortfall of approximately US$87 million. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has already confirmed a contribution of US$18 million to be used for the purchase of vegetable oil and pulses.
Victoria Cavanagh, WFP/Harare, Tel +2634252471, Mob. +263778620233
Tomson Phiri, WFP/Harare, Tel. + 2634799215, Mob. +263772911519
Challiss McDonough, WFP/Nairobi, Tel. 254207622179, Mob. +254707722104