The United States Agency for International Development on Wednesday launched a five-year $100 million development food assistance program to help more than a half-million hungry Zimbabweans.
U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton said Washington remained committed to the welfare of Zimbabweans.
He said the new program, funded by USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, aims to strengthen Zimbabwe's agricultural sector.
"The United States wants Zimbabwe to prosper. Our joint efforts on food security are an opportunity for Zimbabweans in drought prone areas to become more self-reliant,” said Wharton.
“It will include vulnerable households having greater income options. It will include access to irrigation and clean water sources through rehabilitation and the rehabilitation of the existing schemes."
Non-profit international development organizations World Vision and CNFA, which is based in Washington DC, will implement the five-year program in Zimbabwe's most drought prone provinces - Manicaland, Masvingo, Matabeleland North, and Matabeleland South.
The program will address chronic malnutrition while promoting health and hygiene practices. More than 220,000 women and children will receive supplementary food rations, and health and nutrition training.
It also seeks to promote productivity among smallholder farmers while diversifying livelihood options.
Seasonal humanitarian assistance has become the norm in Zimbabwe since 2000, when agricultural production began a long-term plunge. Authorities blame the trend on drought, while critics say it was President Robert Mugabe's land reforms.
George Kembo of Zimbabwe's Food and Nutrition Council says the U.S. program might be the answer to Zimbabwe's chronic food shortages and malnutrition.
"This program is moving away from giving rations. It is also tailor-made to activities that are happening within respective districts. What it is doing is to spruce up, to harness, to ensure that the communities continue doing what they were doing but with assistance. They are coming up and say: what is your strength; if you are into livestock, how do we support you so that you have more of those activities?"
USAID Zimbabwe Mission Director Melissa Williams said program will provide concrete resources and skills in assisting vulnerable Zimbabweans achieve food security.
“Once known as the breadbasket of southern Africa, Zimbabwe’s economic decline and frequent droughts have resulted in decreased agricultural productivity and a high level of chronic child malnutrition,” she said.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of the "hunger season," the last three months before the harvest. The U.N. World Food Program is trying to raise $86 million to feed more than two million hungry Zimbabweans.
Meanwhile, the WFP’s executive director Ertharin Cousin began a three-day visit to Zimbabwe Wednesday.
Tomson Phiri of the WFP’s public information office told VOA Coucin will meet senior government officials and local representatives of donor governments to discuss WFP operations and issues of food and nutrition security in the country.
During her stay, she will visit a WFP program providing food assistance to people living with HIV receiving treatment at Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare.
The WFP currently provides seasonal relief to 1.2 million people in food-insecure areas of rural Zimbabwe. In addition to assisting people living with HIV, the WFP provides nutritional support to malnourished pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under five years of age.
As a longer-term response to food insecurity in Zimbabwe, said Phiri, the WFP has a cash-food-for-assets program to strengthen people’s resilience to shocks such as drought and flooding.
“Unfortunately she’s not going to be in the country for a long time to allow us time to take her everywhere but she will visit some of our programs close to Harare to see what we are doing to help vulnerable Zimbabweans,” said Phiri.