Aid has made major difference in Zimbabwe, says UN report

By staff writers
15 Aug 2010

A United Nations report has found that food security in Zimbabwe has improved signficiantly, but that agricultural and food assistance will still be vital for around 1.68 million people next year.

The report follows a joint mission to Zimbabwe in June by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to assess the national crop and food security situation.

The mission found that food security in the country has improved following government efforts and an international assistance programme which has been providing farmers with subsidised inputs.

They say that the area planted under maize, the main staple, increased by 20 per cent in 2010 to the highest level in 30 years and production rose 7 per cent over 2009.

Compared with the poor 2008 season when less than 500,000 metric tons of maize were harvested, production more than doubled in 2009 and 2010, to 1.27 and 1.35 million tons respectively.

“The generous international support for the 2009/10 input campaign significantly contributed to this year’s relatively good harvest results, even if in some areas of the country rainfall distribution was uneven,” said Cristina Amaral, Chief of FAO’s emergency and rehabilitation operations in Africa.

The findings are likely to be seen as evidence of what can be achieved with international aid.

But it is not all good news. “Despite the improved availability of food, up to 1.68 million people will need food assistance because prices remain comparatively high for families with low incomes and little or no access to US dollars or South African rand,” said the report's co-author, Jan Delbaere of WFP.

Liliana Balbi of FAO added, “Zimbabwe has only 1.66 million tons of cereals available as against a total needs forecast of 2.09 million tons in the marketing year 2010-2011. That leaves a 428,000-ton shortfall”.

Part of this will be covered by commercial imports, projected to total 317,000 tons of cereals, including 200,000 tons of maize.

The mission estimated that 133,000 tons of food assistance will be needed to feed 1.68 million Zimbabweans in 2010/11.

The report's authors say that general poverty and chronic food insecurity had led to reduced diversity of consumption and had also contributed to an increased prevalence of chronic malnutrition among young children. The report indicates that lack of liquidity remains a constraint to accessing inputs and increasing food production.

The 2009/10 input assistance programme proposed a quick impact programme that aimed to substantively boost smallholder staple food production in Zimbabwe. The report states that the international community responded well and FAO received contributions from a number of donors, including the European Union, the USA, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Finland. The EU made the largest financial contribution, €15.4 million.

In total 51,500 tons of fertilizer and 6,500 tons of maize seeds were distributed to 738,000 households. FAO say they also promoted conservation agriculture that helped farmers to improve soil fertility through the use of techniques such as maintaining soil organic cover, reducing tillage and better crop rotation.

The programme also promoted the use of vouchers which farmers could use to get the inputs they needed from local suppliers. The report insisted that, “The agricultural support programmes need to be continued during the next planting season to consolidate the gains achieved so far”.

[Ekk/1]

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