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Government appeals to NGOs to feed poor

Augustine Mukaro

GROWING food shortages have forced government to eat its words and allow non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to resume distributing food aid. They wer

e banned last year.

The decision has been viewed as an admission that the country embellished production figures last season and that the army-led Operation Maguta has been a flop.

Highly placed sources said government has ordered all provincial governors and administrators to allow NGOs to resume food distribution with immediate effect.

In a circular issued last month, government instructed provincial officials to ignore a directive against NGOs last year.

“Please be advised that despite an earlier directive barring NGOs from giving food aid to the people four months ago, it has emerged that the government has not enough food to feed its citizens,” reads the circular.

“You are therefore advised to liaise with the traditional NGOs in your area, which used to assist us in times of such need. Those NGOs willing to assist should be allowed to start work immediately since the situation is desperate in some areas.”

The National Association of NGOs (Nango) confirmed that its members had been allowed to resume general food distribution to starving Zimbabweans. “The circular was sent through provincial governors,” Nango spokesman, Fambai Ngirande, said.

Last year about 22 food assistance agencies operating in the countryside were forced to stop relief activities based on Agriculture minister Joseph Made’s projected bumper harvest for the 2005/6 season.

Only a limited number of donors were allowed to carry out targeted feeding aimed at vulnerable groups such as the old, orphans and people living with HIV/Aids.

NGOs that were forced to stop food aid and move out of the areas they were operating in included Goal Zimbabwe, Concern, Christian Care, and World Vision among others.

Government expressed suspicion that relief activities by food agencies exposed deepening hunger in some parts of rural Zimbabwe, rebutting the state’s insistence on a bumper harvest.

The directive coincides with the World Food Programme (WFP) urgent appeal for about US$61 million to buy 97 000 tonnes of food to feed vulnerable groups in the country.

In an emergency report issued last week, WFP said it is currently facing significant supply shortfalls in cereals, pulses and corn-soya blend.

“As a result, food distribution for October 2006 will be cut by 66%, affecting some 364 000 school children and 190 000 chronically ill people and orphans” the report said.

“In addition, beneficiaries of the urban feeding programme will receive half rations. The pipeline is expected to slightly improve in November through to January 2007, after which stocks will be depleted.”

Made’s 1,8 million tonnes harvest projection was proved to be a mirage. Local and international farming experts calculated that Zimbabwe harvested between 700 and 800 tonnes of maize in the 2005/06 season. The harvest falls far short of what is required to see the country through to the next harvest.

In a rare admission, Made told the Masvingo Agricultural show over the weekend that the country did not harvest enough food last season and that the army-led programme to produce food had flopped.

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