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EXTERNAL HELP RAISES ZIMBABWE’S FOOD PRODUCTION BUT SOME STILL HUNGRY – UN

By UN

10 August - An estimated 1.68 million Zimbabweans still require agricultural assistance and food aid despite an improvement in the country's food production thanks to Government efforts and a $70 million international assistance programme for farmers in the Southern African nation, United Nations agencies said today.

According to a joint report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) based on assessments in June, the area planted with maize, Zimbabwe's staple food, increased by 20 per cent this year, the highest level in 30 years, and production was up seven per cent compared to last year.

Compared with 2008, a year of poor crop production when less than 500,000 tons of maize was harvested, production more than doubled to 1.27 million tons last year and 1.35 million tons this year.

“The generous international support for the 2009/2010 input campaign significantly contributed to this year's relatively good harvest results, even if in some areas of the country where rainfall distribution was uneven,” said Cristina Amaral, chief of FAO's emergency and rehabilitation operations in Africa.

“Despite the improved availability of food, up to 1.68 million people will need food assistance because prices remain comparatively high for families with low incomes and little or no access to US dollars or South African rand,” said WFP's Jan Delbaere, co-author of the report.

“Zimbabwe has only 1.66 million tons of cereals available against a total needs forecast of 2.09 million tons in marketing year 2010-2011 (April/March). That leaves a 428,000-ton shortfall,” said Liliana Balbi, the team leader of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System.

Part of the shortfall will be covered by commercial imports, projected to total 317,000 tons of cereals, including 200,000 tons of maize.

The assessment mission estimated that 133,000 tons of food aid will be needed to feed those without enough to eat this year and next year.

According to the report, general poverty and chronic food insecurity had led to reduced diversity of consumption, and had also contributed to an increased prevalence of chronic malnutrition among young children. The report indicated that the lack of funds remained a constraint to accessing farm inputs, including tools, fertilizer, seed and pesticides.

The 2009-2010 input assistance programme, jointly formulated by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), FAO, the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and WFP, proposed a quick impact programme that aimed to substantively boost smallholder staple food production in Zimbabwe.

The international community responded well and FAO received contributions from a number of donors, including the European Union, the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Finland. The EU made the largest financial contribution under the EU Food Facility for Zimbabwe, totalling €15.4 million ($20 million).

Some 51,500 tons of fertilizer and 6,500 tons of maize seeds were distributed to 738,000 households. FAO also promoted conservation agriculture that helped farmers to improve soil fertility through the use of techniques such as maintaining soil organic cover, reducing tillage and better crop rotation.

The programme also promoted the use of vouchers which farmers used to get the inputs they needed from local suppliers. The agricultural support programmes needed to be continued during the next planting season to consolidate the gains achieved so far, the agencies said.