Bumper harvest claim jolted

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s brag about a bumper harvest this season received a major jolt this week as a report from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) said 2,3-million people will need food aid this year.

Mugabe’s government maintains the country will produce 2,4-million tonnes of maize, against 1,2-million tonnes forecast by aid agencies.

In an interview with Sky News last month, Mugabe insisted Zimbabwe did not require humanitarian aid and would not import food.

“Why foist this food upon us? We don’t want to be choked,” he said in the interview.

But this week a crop assessment team comprising the UN and aid agencies and government officials contradicted the executive’s swagger.

“A total of 2,3 million people will not be able to meet their minimum cereal needs during the 2004-2005 season,” said the summary of the ZimVAC report.

Combined with the results of a previous report on urban areas, it means a total of almost five million Zimbabweans will need assistance this year.

James Morris, the special envoy for humanitarian needs of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, on a tour of Southern Africa this week, was sceptical about official government forecasts.

He described the jump in forecast harvest figures from 980 000 to 2,4 million tonnes as “one of the most remarkable turnarounds in history”.

The opposition MDC has said Mugabe’s government would use food as a campaign tool for the 2005 general election. Zanu-PF insists the government will not do this.

Morris did not visit Zimbabwe as government ministers there said they were too busy to meet him.

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