/ 25 June 2009

Zim still facing food insecurity, says UN

Zimbabwe’s agricultural production is estimated to have risen significantly this year, but many people still face serious problems finding basic foods, the United Nations said on Thursday.

”High food insecurity persists in Zimbabwe in spite of improvements in agricultural production and a more liberal import policy this year,” said the report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP).

Good rainfall meant 2009 production of the staple crop, maize, is estimated to have more than doubled, to 1,14-million tonnes, after the record low harvest of 2008, the report said.

Liberalisation of the economy this year, and the grain market in particular, have filled the shops with products and reduced prices, the FAO said. However, for most households without access to foreign currency, basic necessities remain out of reach.

”This year’s improved harvest comes after two consecutive years of poor production,” said the WFP’s Jan Delbaere, a co-leader of a UN mission to Zimbabwe in early May that produced the report.

”Having depleted their food stocks and sold livestock and other assets to cope with the effects of recent crises, many rural households are still struggling to survive.”

The report acknowledged the importance of government reforms but said the situation remained critical.

”Liberalisation of the grain market is the most important change in a decade for the improvement of the agriculture sector in Zimbabwe,” said FAO economist Kisan Gunjal.

”But the full impact of the reform on production next season remains to be seen, especially in light of financial liquidity constraints and other problems of economic transition.”

The report provisionally estimates that about 2,8-million will face food shortages in the 2009/10 marketing year (April/March) and will require about 228 000 tonnes of food assistance, including 190 000 of cereals.

The FAO forecast the production of winter-season wheat of only about 12 000 tonnes, the lowest ever, reflecting the high cost of fertilisers and quality seeds, farmers’ lack of financial liquidity and uncertain electricity supply for irrigation. — Reuters