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Zimbabwe Government Acknowledges Need For Food Assistance

A Zimbabwean government official has publicly admitted that the country will need to ask for assistance to meet the needs of all vulnerable households.

Labor Ministry Director Sydney Mhishi conceded the need for food aid in submissions to a follow-up on a national food assessment carried out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program earlier this year.

"The government is urging all those who can assist to complement (the) government's efforts by providing assistance to vulnerable households," Mhishi said.

The admission comes soon after President Robert Mugabe told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month during the organization’s general assembly that the country would have informed the United Nations if the situation were "dire.” The president maintained that his government was coping with the situation.

The FAO-WFP follow-up brought together Health and Labor Ministry officials, representatives of Zimbabwe's Meteorological Services Department and the country's Agriculture Extension Services, or Arex, as well as nongovernmental organizations such as Oxfam and Environment Africa.

Arex forecast national wheat production of some 145,000 metric tonnes, well short of the 400,000 metric tonnes the country needs to meet requirements.

The Grain Marketing Board, a state monopoly, says it has taken in just 400,000 metric tonnes of wheat to date this crop year. Mhishi told the group that Harare has allocated Z$347 billion for food assistance for some 3 million people through April 2008.

But economists and other experts say this is not enough and that the number of those needing assistance could exceed 8 million if urban hunger is taken into account.

Bulawayo-based economist Eric Bloch told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe in putting off submitting a request for international food assistance - as it has in previous years - Harare had engaged in self-deception.

South African-based analyst Glen Mpani said Harare delayed in asking for assistance to ensure that the arrival of food would coincide with the election campaign running up to local, parliamentary and presidential scheduled for March 2008.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...