UN to check on Zimbabwe food crisis

A special United Nations envoy is to visit Zimbabwe this week to assess the country’s critical food situation.

It is not clear what reception James Morris, director of the World Food Programme (WFP), will get from the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, who curtailed UN food distribution last year.

Mugabe said last week that he would accept UN food aid, so long as it came with no political conditions.

He admitted that Zimbabwe, once known as Africa’s breadbasket, would need international food aid for the fourth consecutive year.

Morris’s visit comes as Zimbabwe is in the throes of severe shortages of food, fuel and other basic commodities. Morris is going as a special envoy of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, with a brief to look at the availability of food and the impact of Aids on food production.

He is also charged with assessing the role of weak government in food shortages.

Zimbabwe needs to import 1,2-million tonnes of grain over the next 12 months at a cost of $250-million, according to new government figures.

The government announced on Friday that it was drastically revising its budget to find the funds for the imports.

Mugabe blames drought for the crop failures. The World Food Programme says that the impact of HIV/Aids has also decreased Zimbabwe’s agricultural productivity, as the country has an HIV infection rate of more than 25%.

However, independent agricultural experts place the blame for the drastic drop in food production on Mugabe’s land seizures and the ensuing chaos which has hindered cultivation.

Mugabe’s government is refusing food to desperately hungry families suspected of supporting the opposition, human rights campaigners said last week.

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, showed videos of several poor Zimbabweans who accused the government of denying food to them.

It is not clear if Mugabe will insist that his government distributes all United Nations food aid.
In the past all UN food assistance was distributed impartially.

Several former white farmers in Zimbabwe on Sunday told The Guardian that they were not giving serious consideration to the suggestion made by Mugabe’s key economic aide that some white farmers could return to farming.

In a wide-ranging statement on emergency economic measures on Thursday, the Central Bank governor, Gideon Gono, proposed that selected white farmers could go back to farming on 10-year leases.

His proposal is widely viewed as a further admission that the land seizures have provoked Zimbabwe’s recurrent food shortages. But white former farmers rejected Gono’s proposal.

“It is a fiction and a fraud,” said Joe Whaley, who was thrown off his tobacco farm in Norton three years ago. “The government would have to make fundamental changes before anyone in their right mind could look at the proposition.

“It is a lawless situation right now. People get land for political patronage. It is rotten to the core.”

Whaley is starting to farm in neighbouring Zambia, at the invitation of Lusaka government.

A leader of former white farmers said the new land proposition was only on offer to those farmers who give up their title deeds.

“It is like someone stealing your car and then coming back and asking you for the registration papers in order for you to lease the car back,” said John Worsley-Worswick, chief executive of Justice for Agriculture.

“Even as Gono makes this suggestion, there are dozens of farmers who are being thrown off their land.

“What is happening on the ground is a direct contradiction of Mr Gono’s propaganda. He is trying to put a face of respectability on to the government’s land policies.” - Guardian Unlimited Â

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