Harare — The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared that Zimbabwe's perennial food shortages must not be allowed to continue. According to the FAO, there are signs that President Robert Mugabe's government now wants to address the problem, which has grown worse this year.
Once considered southern Africa's breadbasket, Zimbabwe has suffered recurring food shortages for more than a decade. Currently, more than 2.2 million people - about one-sixth of the population - depend on handouts for food.
The FAO head in Zimbabwe, David Phiri, is worried about the situation.
"Zimbabwe should not be where it is right now. This country has great potential. Unfortunately, we have one-third of children under five being stunted. And that is a serious issue," said Phiri.
The U.N. official spoke Wednesday on the sidelines of World Food Day celebrations in Lupane district, about 700 kilometers southwest of Harare and one of the areas most affected by the food shortages that have become the norm in Zimbabwe. The shortages have been regular since 2000, when President Mugabe embarked on controversial land reforms that drove most white commercial farmers off their land, replacing them with blacks that often lacked farming experience.
FAO's Phiri said the Mugabe government is making an effort to revive the country's agriculture industry.
"I think the Zimbabwean government has shown that it has political will. They have [lately] been focusing on agriculture and political will [more] than any other thing," said Phiri.
As evidence of its commitment to agriculture, the government announced it has sourced about $1 billion from a variety of bodies to fund the 2013/14 agriculture season, which in Zimbabwe starts in October.
The government said it wants to ensure that Zimbabwe becomes self-reliant again, as was the case for about two decades after independence in 1980.