AS prospects of a famine become glaringly clear, the Zimbabwe government has intensified its negotiations with the donor community to stave-off a humanitarian crisis.
P>United Nations officials in Harare confirmed that government would soon after this month’s general election submit a formal consolidated appeal to the agency. The UN officials said government should have presented its appeal this month but the parliamentary election has got in the way.
“Indications are that government is ready to formally submit a consolidated appeal,” said a UN official who has been part of the team working with government and the donor community.
“All ministries which submitted requests agree that there is need for donor assistance in the shortest time possible.”
Officials said requests for agricultural sector revival and food assistance constitute over 50% of the country’s appeal to the donor community.
An analyst however described government’s delay to submit the appeal as a political gimmick to avoid criticism ahead of a crucial parliamentary election on March 31.
“An early appeal to the donor community would expose government’s initial claims that Zimbabwe did not need food assistance as a sham,” the analyst said.
President Robert Mugabe told a Sky News crew last year that Zimbabwe would have a bumper harvest and that donors should take their food to needy countries. Agriculture minister Joseph Made weighed in, claiming that the country would have a harvest of 2,4 million tonnes. A parliamentary committee confirmed only 398 000 tonnes.
Since December last year, government, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, has been holding a series of meetings with the donor community to solicit aid.
UN officials said the donor community was willing to help Zimbabwe once a formal appeal is submitted. Donors need at least three months to mobilise resources and ship food to a needy country. If the appeal is submitted in April, Zimbabwe will only start receiving aid between July and August.
Other than the countrywide food shortages, the country needs to revive the crumbling health system and the economy in general which has been in free-fall since 1997 when government doled out an unbudgeted $4 billion to war veterans for their role in the 1970s liberation struggle.
The South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) said in the week ended February 25 that about 7 778 out of 19 556 tonnes of export white maize went to Zimbabwe. The figure brings to 30 000 tonnes the amount of grain imported by Zimbabwe since November last year.
Information at hand shows that the cash-strapped government has resorted to collecting money from rural populace to bankroll its grain imports.
The money is collected through ruling party structures of villages, wards and councils for the purchase of maize imported through government’s Grain Marketing Board.
Villagers from Gutu District in Masvingo province who have already started pooling their meagre resources said local traditional leaders were compiling lists of contributions that would be used to distribute the grain. Villagers are understood to be paying about $35 000 for a 50kg bag of the staple maize.
The GMB has been failing to bring enough maize into the country, resulting in ration supplies, leading to widespread scarcities. The limited supplies have created a boon for black marketers who charge higher prices.
Zimbabwe is staring one of its worst agricultural seasons caused by lack of planning on government’s part. The government has dismally failed to supply inputs to new farmers who were resettled during the land reform, which started some five years ago.
Most of the irrigation infrastructure which had been put up by white commercial farmers over many years was destroyed by the farm invaders as part of a strategy to reduce the quantum of compensation to the affected farmers.
This year the farming community managed to plough about 900 000 hectares –— far less than the targeted 4 million hectares. There were also critical shortages of fuel and draught power, seed and other vital inputs like fertilisers.