The United Nations World Food Program said Friday 1.6 million people in Zimbabwe’s rural areas will need food assistance during the peak of the coming hunger season from January through March next year.
The WFP said a recent assessment indicates that the number of people in need of food aid is 60 percent higher than the 1 million that needed assistance during the last lean season.
The U.N. agency said its workers are already reporting signs of distress in most areas as some villagers have emptied their granaries and farmers cheaply selling off their livestock to make ends meet.
The deteriorating food situation, said the WFP, was caused by erratic rainfall and dry spells, limited access to agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizer, a reduction in the planted hectarage, poor farming practices and inadequate crop diversification.
This year’s cereal harvest was 1,076.772 metric tonnes – one third lower than that of last year and the lowest since 2008.
To meet the increased needs, the WFP and its partners would undertake food distribution with regionally procured cereals as well as imported vegetable oil.
The organization has a food budget deficit of $87 million after setting aside $119 million for food aid.
The worst affected regions are Matabeleland, Midlands, Masvingo and Manicaland.
WFP public information officer Victoria Cavanagh said cash transfers will be made to some vulnerable families in order to avert hunger.
“Last season they received $3 every two-week cycle and we based the amounts on market prices which we monitored,” said Cavanagh.
Christian Care executive director Stanslous Chatikobo said the WFP’s budget gap is due to donor fatigue.
The WFP’s seasonal assistance program normally starts in October and most of the food assessments are conducted annually by the government in collaboration with U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations.