Innocent Ruwende Senior Reporter—
Government has come up with immediate measures to fight food shortages, including opening up imports of maize and maize-meal to private importers, while the movement of grain from areas with surplus to those in need will be allowed.This came out at a multi-stakeholder consultative meeting held yesterday between Government and United Nations agencies to assess the impact of the El Nino-induced drought on the country.
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The meeting sought to come up with an urgent coordinated response to humanitarian needs caused by the drought. At least 1,5 million people are in need of food aid for the next three months following last year’s drought that ravaged most parts of the country
More people will line up for food aid in the near future as it is becoming evident that most areas will not harvest enough food this season because of erratic rains, not only in Zimbabwe, but throughout Southern Africa.
Speaking at the consultative meeting, Secretary for Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Mr Ngoni Masoka said all 60 rural districts required food aid, although the extent differed.
“The financial requirement is $153 million and the current financial commitment is $54 million, leaving a gap of $78 million,” he said. “We have 30 districts with comprehensive support, of these, eight are covered through a joint initiative between Government and the World Food Programme, 14 by a consortium led by CARE international and eight by the World Food Programme.”
Mr Masoka said Government and its partners were facing challenges in moving grain from Grain Marketing Board depots. The GMB was in the process of importing grain from other countries, with the parastatal having been allowed by the State Procurement Board to bring in 30 000 tonnes from Zambia with immediate effect without going to tender.
The parastatal is also going to tender to import 200 000 more tonnes from the same country. Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development permanent secretary Mr Ringson Chitsiko said at the same meeting that the situation was dire in most areas.
“The rainfall has been poorly distributed, leading to delays in the start of the growing season,” he said in a report read on his behalf by the ministry’s director (economics and markets), Mr Clemence Bwenje.
“This has led to delayed planting, poor germination, which requires re-planting in most instances. Temporary to permanent wilting of the early planted crops has been reported in Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Masvingo, parts of Midlands and Manicaland.
“There is dire shortage of grazing and water in Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Masvingo, parts of Midlands and Manicaland. Poverty deaths of livestock stand at approximately 10 000 and continue to rise.”
Government was encouraging strategic marketing of livestock, in effect destocking, to cushion farmers against loses, said Mr Chitsiko. “Government, under the livestock drought mitigation programme, introduced the provision of subsidised livestock feed and emergency irrigation rehabilitation development programme,” he said.
“As we speak 300 000 vulnerable households are receiving assistance under the Government Crop and Livestock inputs scheme valued at $28,3 million. Each household received 10kg maize seed, 50kg of top dressing and basal fertilizer.”
Mr Chitisko said 30 000 farmers were being assisted with cotton inputs and the Food Agriculture Organization was supporting 8 000 households to access livestock survival feed and drought tolerant seed.
UN Resident Coordinator Mr Bishow Parajuli urged stakeholders to focus on responding adequately and timely to the urgent needs of the food-insecure population. He said building community resilience was an integral component of the response.
“With the current trend, the initial national response plan of $132 million launched in October 2015 to respond to the food insecurity situation would likely go up further,” said Mr Parajuli.
“Thanks to mainly the USA, the UK and the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund, so far only $59 million has been mobilised in food and cash support with responses being implemented.” Mr Parajuli said it was critical to urgently respond to the growing humanitarian challenge caused by the El Nino phenomenon and to complement Government and partners’ support.
He said the current El Niño, one of the strongest in 35 years, will remain active until the first quarter of 2016, thereby influencing most of the agricultural season in Southern Africa.
Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Retired Colonel Christian Katsande said: “For Zimbabwe, the forecast of poor rainfall patterns in the current cropping season and livestock situation coupled with the eroded productive capacity of farming households will result in a significant increase in food and nutrition insecurity in the country.
“Rehabilitation of national irrigation infrastructure for increased food production has to be scaled up urgently.” The multi-stakeholders meeting, co-chaired by Rtd Col Katsande and Mr Parajuli, brought together senior representatives from Government, diplomatic corps, donors as well as international and national development and humanitarian agencies.