THE Department of Agricultural Research and Extension Services (Arex) has allegedly bungled food assessment reports on Matabeleland that has resulted in food relief agencies
scaling down food aid in the region, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
According to information gathered by the Independent, two reports produced by Arex for the months of January and March this year downplayed the food needs for two districts in Matabeleland North and South provinces. Donors scaled down food distribution in the two provinces using information provided by Arex.
WFP spokesman, Luis Clemens, confirmed that the UN body had scaled down operations in parts of Matabeleland but said the decision was not based solely on Arex reports but included community and WFP assessments.
“We did our own assessment of the situation with the help of the community and in some regions we scaled down to allow people to harvest. Our policy is that we feed people at a time when they need food and not always,” Clemens said.
The WFP head of the Bulawayo sub-office Rubina Mulenga said the downscaling was a result of many factors, not Arex reports alone.
“Arex produced figures and WFP looked at those figures and our own assessments showed us that there was need to downscale even though we admit that there were flaws in the Arex reports,” Mulenga said.
She said the number of beneficiaries in Tsholotsho was reduced from 107 000 to 72 000 in a total population of 119 000.
“We were feeding 90% of the population but one ward was removed from the list because the people were accessing GMB maize and they are close to the business centre. They have access to other means of getting food and the Arex report acknowledged that,” she said.
World Vision and the Organisation of Rural Associations for Progress (Orap), the two implementing partners of the World Food Programme, have reduced their operations in Tsholotsho and Bulilimamangwe districts amid fears that thousands of people could starve.
The WFP has since March also scaled down operations in Lupane, Nkayi and Umguza districts.
A Matabeleland North provincial joint council, made up of Grain Marketing Board officials, council chief executive officers and the Provincial Development Committee, disputed the Arex food assessment reports and questioned why it was not handed over to the governor’s office and other provincial leaders.
“The donors are pulling out of some areas citing the Arex report which said there has been good harvests in some parts of the province. This is not true,” said a member of the Matabeleland North joint council, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
GMB officials are alleged to have told a joint council meeting last week that in their distribution patterns, Matabeleland was not a priority despite the fact that the government cited the province as a disaster area in its food aid appeal sent last week to the international community.
When government made the appeal to the United Nations for more food aid last week, Matabeleland was described as being “of particular interest”.