The United Nations has warned that more than five million Zimbabweans could be threatened by hunger next year due to a steady drop in food production coupled with the world’s highest rate of inflation.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Program said in a joint report that an estimated two million people in Zimbabwe will not have enough to eat in the summer months.
That figure is projected to rise to 3.8 million people after September and to about 5.1 million between January and March 2009, as the impact of President Robert Mugabe’s seizure of land from commercial farmers continues to take its toll. The population is just over 12 million people.
The southern African nation is predicted to produce 575,000 tons of its main seasonal crop of maize, a drop of 28 per cent compared with last year, which was already some 44 per cent below 2006 government figures. Other crops are expected to be similarly dented.
“Poverty has increased for the tenth year in a row and there is an annual inflation estimated at 355,000 percent,” said Kisan Gunjal, an FAO food emergency officer who worked on the report. “That is different than any other period in the history of Zimbabwe.”
The report, which follows a four-week mission to Zimbabwe in May, said this year’s poor production has followed several years of declining yields.
The report also blames adverse weather, late delivery of seeds and shortages of fertilizers, as well as poor infrastructure.
The economic slide of the impoverished nation, which was once the region’s breadbasket, has been blamed on the collapse of the key agriculture sector after often violent seizures of farmland from whites.
Earlier this month, Mr Mugabe’s government also ordered aid groups to suspend field work indefinitely, accusing them of working with the opposition to topple him.
The freeze has put millions who depend on food aid at the mercy of the government’s own distribution system. The UN has said the order hampers aid delivery to more than four million people.