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UN classifies Zim as hunger hotspot

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has been left with egg on the face after the World Food Programme listed the country among 20 hunger hotspots in urgent need of support.

Despite injecting billions of dollars in agricultural subsidies and bankrolling an opaque import-substitution programme, Zimbabwe, once seen as the bread basket of the region, has since the turn of the millennium struggled to meet its grain demands.

Critics blame the chaotic land reform programme carried out in the early 2000s for disrupting agricultural production and violating land tenure rights. But the government blames the West for imposing sanctions on Harare for paralysing economic activity.

Experts say low-productivity agricultural practices and lack of access to markets are also affecting the food security of the vast majority of rural Zimbabweans, whose livelihoods depend on rain-fed agricultural production.

Under-nutrition rates are high, especially in rural districts where diets lack diversity – maize being the main staple — and are poor in essential nutrients.

According to the United Nations agency responsible for food aid across the globe, 2.9 million people in Zimbabwe were food insecure during the first months of 2022. The WFP, which is one of the first agencies on the ground in global emergencies caused by conflict, climate shocks, pandemics and other disasters, requires US$22.2 billion to feed 345 million people facing acute food insecurity in 82 countries.

Zimbabwe, the WFP says, is a new hunger hotspot due to erratic rains during the past summer cropping season and this will result in a cut in cereal production. Four provinces, official statistics show, had permanent crop wilting.

The country is also experiencing persistently high inflation rates and low availability of maize, a staple food. The government has announced strict measures to limit the marketing and movement of maize.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the WFP warn that acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further in 20 countries (including one region) — called hunger hotspots — during the outlook period from February to May 2022.

“According to the May 2022 Hunger Hotspots report, Ethiopia, Nigeria South Sudan and Yemen remain at the ‘highest alert’ as hotspots with catastrophic conditions, and Afghanstan and Somalia are new entries to this worrisome class since the previous hotspots report in January 2022,” the WFP says.

“Sri Lanka, West African coastal countries (Benin, Cabo Verde, and Guinea) and Zimbabwe have been added to the list of hotspot countries, joining Angola, Lebanon, Madagascar and Mozambique which continue to be hunger hotspots.)”

Tremors of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are also being felt in Zimbabwe. Official figures show that Zimbabwe’s average annual wheat requirement is estimated at 400 000 metric tonnes (mt). It imported cereal from both Russia and Ukraine worth US$17.3 million in 2020. It imported 35 807mt of wheat and meslin from Ukraine and 10 253mt of wheat and meslin from Russia.

Barely a week before the WFP issued an SOS on Zimbabwe, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa told a post-cabinet Press briefing that the number of people facing food insecurity had declined owing to several government programmes. The government sees strong growth in mining and agriculture driving growth this year.



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