Zim risks losing UN aid

Gift Phiri

United Nations resident coordinator in Zimbabwe, Victor Angelo, this week said Zimbabwe risks losing future aid following the cancellation of a UN food assessment mission last week.
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“It is with regret and concern that I have to put on record that on May 4 2004, the government of Zimbabwe recalled its field officers who were jointly participating in the assessment,” said Angelo.

“Since the CSFAM (Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission) is only conducted with the agreement and participation of the government, this action effectively cancelled the mission.”

“We are concerned that should a food assistance need be identified later in the year and were the government to issue an appeal at that time, a very rapid response may not be possible,” he said.

Agriculture minister Joseph Made announced this week that Zimbabwe would produce 2,4 million tonnes of maize which he said would far surpass the nation’s annual grain requirement of between 1,5 million to two million tonnes.

An internal UN memorandum described the projected harvest as an “impossibly big figure”.

It said Zimbabwe’s latest crop projections were a “complete nonsense” and “quite impossible”, lending credence to claims that the Zanu PF government plans to use food aid as a tool in its election campaign.

The disagreements between Zimbabwe and the UN come hardly a week after government ordered a crop assessment team out of the country three days after it went into the fields to calculate this year’s food harvest. The team was made up of three experts from the World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The Zimbabwe Independent understands that government stopped the UN team because it was going to expose the inaccuracies of Zanu PF’s crop forecasts and the shortcomings of government’s land reform.

The Independent was told that the inflated forecasts would be used to justify the government’s decision to turn down food aid this year. By shutting out foreign food aid, the electorate will be left at the mercy of the ruling party, which in the past has demonstrated a penchant for using food as the carrot in its often vicious campaign strategy.

Labour and Social Welfare minister, Paul Mangwana, is understood to have recently met UN officials and diplomats where he reiterated that government had asked the UN to keep food aid out of the humanitarian assistance appeal it had made.

Surveys conducted by independent organisations projected crop production of between 600 000 and 900 000 tonnes because of problems faced by farmers during the past season. Last year farmers faced problems in procuring inputs such as fertilisers, maize seeds and draught power.

Government sources however told the Independent that Zimbabwe was importing maize from Zambia while telling the world that it had enough to feed its people.

Millers who spoke to the Independent said the Zambian maize was being delivered to the Grain Marketing Board’s Karoi depot.

“All the major millers buying maize from the GMB have to pick it up from Karoi where Zambian maize is being delivered,” said an executive with a major milling company in Harare.

Analysts say the move by government could precipitate a famine. They point to periodic fuel shortages and scarcity of spare parts as major hindrances to government’s ability to move food to needy Zimbabweans fast.

Human rights lawyer and co-chairman of Crisis Coalition, Brian Kagoro, said: “The government wants to perpetuate the myth that its haphazard land reform exercise is beginning to bear fruit.”

The opposition MDC said the move would place millions of hungry Zimbabweans at the mercy of Zanu PF and President Mugabe to get food.