Harare — Food shortages are looming once again in Zimbabwe, where the U.N. World Food Program says an estimated 2.2 million people need assistance. The situation has grown so dire that in some areas, people searching for food in the wild have been attacked by hungry animals.
Animal attacks have taken place in Zimbabwe's Manicaland and Masvingo provinces. The last incident - reported on state television -- occurred last week when hyenas attacked five people in the Buhera district who were searching for wild fruits. All five were seriously injured and hospitalized.
The WFP country director for Zimbabwe, Sory Ouane, says Zimbabwean farmers do not have the money to ensure maximum output from their land and eradicate these perennial food shortages.
"And the fact that those farmers rely mainly on rain-fed agriculture makes them vulnerable to this weather conditions," Ouane explained. "We have also noticed that the cost of agricultural inputs have risen to extent that they became out of reach to these farmers. There is another element, many farmers have decided to plant tobacco instead of maize because they want fresh cash which was not a very intelligent choice, because you [don't] want to plant tobacco at the expense of your food security."
He said that the WFP, the international community and President Robert Mugabe's government are working to address the situation and import food to Zimbabwe.
For more than a decade now, issues of food shortages and starvation have loomed over Zimbabwe. Agricultural production plunged in the early 2000s. Authorities attribute that to drought, while critics say it was President Mugabe's chaotic land reforms.
At the moment, all energies are on averting a famine. The WFP says one-in-four people in Zimbabwe's rural population urgently needs food aid to prevent starvation.
The Zimbabwean leader was caught off-guard when journalists asked him about this.
"I am sorry to hear. Some may be desperate with some little food to get them going," he said. "Others when they are desperate, and have got nothing; they go and dig roots and you look for fruits in the forest, then that is no good. We should be able to care of those. The leadership in that area must not allow a situation like that."
Mugabe, 89, said the government would import maize to avert food shortages. Wildlife authorities have said they would kill all animals that attack Zimbabweans looking for wild fruits.