Agricultural and food experts have been voicing concern for some time about the impact of a recent drought on Zimbabwe's soon-to-begin maize harvest, but new information suggests the food-security impact could be much greater than previously thought.
Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said Monday that the provinces of Manicaland, metropolitan Bulawayo were being added to those of Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Midlands and Masvingo as facing critical food shortages.
Observers said Harare could need up to US$300 million to meet food requirements if it turns to the international marketplace to meet national food requirements, particularly in light of steep increases in grain prices over the past year.
With elements of Zimbabwe's national unity government keeping traditional international and non-governmental partners at arm’s length over their alleged politicization of food, sources said ordinary Zimbabweans may end up suffering as Harare is ill-prepared.
The government has said that things look worse on the ground than its recent crop and food assessment suggested. The Cabinet has instructed the state-controlled Grain Marketing Board to start sending grain to the affected areas.
But experts said the GMB has not held significant reserves for some time and will not be able to meet food needs. The agency says it will be selling a 50-kilogram grain bag for US$16 in some areas - out of reach for many cash-poor rural and urban dwellers.
Dadirayi Chikwengo, chairwoman of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, told VOA reporter Sandra Nyaira that the food situation is dire.
Chikwengo said the Zimbabwean government must work with traditional partners to conduct a new assessment and allow such partners to help feed the vulnerable.
Economist John Robertson says Zimbabwe could have avoided food security problems if most of the farms seized under land reform had been put under crops this year.
"We've had poor weather in parts of the country but if crops had been grown in the first place, we would have reasonable crops today," said Robertson.
"But very little of the land is planted and we see very little activity on the land that was taken through the land reform process," he said.