Zimbabwe has imported 647 000 tonnes of maize and at the current rate of imports of 99 500 tonnes a month it could import a further 650 000 tonnes before the end of the current marketing season that ends in March.
The imports would only meet 73 percent of the country’s needs leaving a gap of 27 percent to be filled either through increased commercial imports by the Grain Marketing Board, the private sector or through accelerated food aid imports.
Maize imports for the current season are estimated at 1.3 million tonnes, which means 52 percent has already been imported.
Surprisingly, although imports are meeting 73 percent of the national food requirements, only 20 percent of the 6.7 million people identified in the August assessment are getting food aid from the World Food Programme and other non-governmental organisations.
The WFP and its partners distributed 20 000 tonnes of food to two million people in October but much more needs to be done and yet WFP is struggling to access sufficient resources for the critical months ahead.
“We are approaching the very worst period of the crisis, when 6.7 million Zimbabweans will need food aid and yet WFP does not even have the resources to meet our target of 3 million beneficiaries in November. It is an extremely serious situation and it is only going to get worse,” said Kevin Farrell, WFP representative in Zimbabwe.
The WFP faces a shortfall of close to 200 000 tonnes between now and March 2003.
From 3 million people in 35 districts in November, the WFP plans to distribute relief food to 5.8 million beneficiaries in 57 districts by January.
The WFP has distributed over 80 000 tonnes of food since March. However, it needs to increase its cereal deliveries to around 65 000 tonnes a month because the economic situation is putting more and more people at risk.
Some households are reported to be surviving on wild fruits and vegetables.
Prices of grain have continued to increase from $11 to $19 a kilogramme at GMB depots and from $27 to $120 a kg on the parallel market.
The highest grain prices are reported to be in Matebeleland South and Masvingo provinces.
Urban households have not been spared. The introduction of price controls in October last year saw supermarkets and commercial shops being emptied of the controlled commodities. They resurfaced on the black market where prices had rocketed way above the official rate of inflation.
Between May and September for example, the price of sugar increased by 230 percent, that of cooking oil by about 180 percent. Maize meal increased by 130 percent while bread shot up by 120 percent and fresh milk by a modest 80 percent.
The expenditure basket for the poorest people in Harare which had gone up by 51 percent between January and May went up by 98 percent between May and September.
The poor, or middle group, were worst affected. Though their basket had gone up by only 25 percent between January and May, it soared by 113 percent between May and September.
The slightly better off saw the basket go up by 66 percent between May and September. It went up by 44 percent between January and May.
Most people had hoped that the current season could offer them salvation but the rains which started in October seem to have vanished and there is now talk of an El Nino effect.
Although earlier forecasts were that the country would receive normal to above normal rains, El Nino conditions mean that the Southern half of the country, which is already experiencing serious food shortages, could experience a 20 to 40 percent reduction in potential crop yield. This would lead to a reduced crop for the 2003-2004 consumption year.
Even if the rains come, most farmers could experience a shortage of seed. While the major seed company, SeedCo says it has enough seed to meet local demand as well as for export leaving some for next season, there is no seed on the open market.
Some 47 814 tonnes of hybrid maize seed is reported to be available in the country though. This seed is enough to plant 1.6 million hectares, more than the 1.4 million hectares normally planted to maize.