WFP woos Zambia for Zim food aid

Staff Writer/Irin

THE World Food Programme (WFP) has approached the Zambian government to mobilise maize for Zimbabwe in light of growing fears of food shortages in the country.



T face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The food aid talks between the Zambian government and the WFP come amid revelations by the South African Grain Information Service, a crop monitoring agency, that 40 000 tonnes of maize have been brought into Zimbabwe through South Africa between April and July this year.


Figures from the South African commodity exchange, Grain SA, confirm that during that period 23 600 tonnes passed through South Africa from the United States, with an additional 19 000 tonnes making their way from Argentina. The figures include food aid donations to Zimbabwe.


The revelations flatly contradict claims made by President Mugabe and government officials that Zimbabwe can feed itself. The country will record a bumper maize harvest of 2,4 million tonnes, they claim.


However, aid organisations and independent analysts have forecast serious food shortages before the next harvest. They estimate that the best the country can expect is about 900 000 tonnes. The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, on which UN agencies and government representatives sit, recently reported that 2,3 million people faced food shortages.


The country needs 1,8 million tonnes of maize for consumption and a further 500 000 tonnes for the strategic grain reserve.


Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture Sikatana Mundia told the Zimbabwe Independent in an interview recently that senior officials from the WFP approached his office to arrange maize imports in case Zimbabwe urgently needed food assistance.


“They (WFP) wanted assurance that Zambia would provide maize in case Zimbabwe had an urgent need,” said Mundia. “We however told them that we could not give them an assurance.”


The recent move by the WFP indicates that the United Nations food agency still believes that Zimbabwe does not have enough food this season despite government claims.


Mundia also revealed that there were a number of private companies that had applied for licences to export maize to Zimbabwe.


“We have a number of companies that want to export maize to Zimbabwe. They have since applied for export permits,” said Mundia.


Zambia’s agricultural sector has been on the recovery since it opened its doors to white commercial farmers who had been affected by the land reform in Zimbabwe. Preliminary estimates show that Zambia will harvest about 1,6 million tonnes of maize.


Last month, Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency (FRA) was quoted in the international media as saying it had received food export queries from Zimbabwe, but Charles Chabala, FRA’s director of operations, said this week no maize had yet been exported to Zimbabwe.


He however said that a “trade mission was expected to visit Zimbabwe” soon.


Meanwhile, in a related event, Human Rights Watch yesterday accused the government of gambling with its citizens’ access to food.


In an 11-page report titled “The Politics of Food Assistance in Zimbabwe”, the New York-based agency said the Zimbabwean government’s lack of transparency on grain availability in the country could jeopardise access to food for millions of Zimbabweans in the coming months.


“By withholding vital information on grain availability, the Zimbabwean government is gambling with its citizens’ access to food,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division.

“Under international law, the government must take all necessary steps to fully ensure its citizens’ right to adequate food.”