Zimbabwe faces another poor harvest, UN warns

Zimbabwe drought
Zimbabwe faces its worst drought in years (pic: Howard Burditt/Reuters)

The United Nations warned on Tuesday that Zimbabwe faced another poor harvest in 2020 because of patchy rains, compounding problems for millions of people already grappling with a drought and the worst economic crisis in a decade.

Soaring inflation, shortages of foreign exchange, fuel and electricity have brought back memories of the hyperinflation of a decade ago, amid criticism that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has failed to turn around the economy.

“This season’s rains are again late and inadequate, with planted seeds having failed to germinate in many areas,” the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement.

“Forecasts of continuing hot and dry weather in the weeks ahead signal another poor harvest in April, putting lives and livelihoods at risk.”

With nearly eight million people – half the population – now food insecure, WFP plans to double the number of people it assists – up to 4.1 million – but needs over US$200 million for its emergency response in the first half of 2020 alone.

“As things stand, we will run out of food by end of February, coinciding with the peak of the hunger season – when needs are at their highest,” said Niels Balzer, WFP’s Deputy Country Director in Zimbabwe. “Firm pledges are urgently needed as it can take up to three months for funding commitments to become food on people’s tables,” Balzer added.

Output for the staple maize fell 50% to 900,000 tonnes this year, according to official data. The government has said it plans to import 800,000 tonnes to make up for the deficit.

Facing soaring prices for seeds, fertiliser and chemicals, some farmers have reduced planting during the summer cropping season that started in November, farmers’ unions said.

A majority of Zimbabweans live in rural areas and survive on farming. But the southern African nation has only had one year of normal rainfall in the past five, according to WFP officials.

WFP says it needs US$200 million in the first half of next year to assist 4.1 million Zimbabweans.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has said the government will spend US$133 million next year on subsidies for maize meal to keep the price of the most consumed food affordable.