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Drought hits Zimbabwe rural population hard

by Staff Writers
Kwara, Zimbabwe (AFP) May 5, 2010
One bag of maize, two big pumpkins, some watermelons and two small shopping bags of ground nuts is the only food the Togarepi family of seven is left with after the harvest.

As she looks at the barren fields outside her thatched-roof mud hut in Kwara village in southern Zimbabwe, Tamary Togarepi, 17, worries about where her family will get food, especially for her ailing mother and three-year-old nephew.

"Our harvest is not even enough to last us two months. We now eat only once a day, in the evenings," says Tamary as she shows AFP her spoilt green beans.

"If we see the food is running out we will skip a day and eat the next day."

Humanitarian agencies say at least two million Zimbabweans currently need food aid, and the figures are set to rise as a result of drought and a decade of agricultural mismanagement.

In a country where at least 85 percent of the population is unemployed, Tamary, who finished high school last year, said her family depended solely on its crops since none of her family members had paying work.

Although her native Zaka district is known for its heat, the sun has been extra cruel to the villagers this year.

Tamary spends her days under a tree plaiting her hair or shelling ground nuts. Occasionally she waves to passing villagers as they return from fetching water at the dam a few kilometres away.

Fana Chenjerai, a 61-year-old villager, said this year's drought was the worst he had seen in some years.

"We have been confronted with this situation before but not to this scale. What makes it worse is that we don't have help from government. We have to wait for food agencies, but they also prioritise the worst affected. But this time around I think it's the same for every family," he said.

Chenjerai, a subsistence farmer, said he was grateful for the food he sometimes received from aid agencies, but complained that villagers were not given enough seeds.

"We are asking for more seeds because we want to diversify our crops and use more land," he said.

Zimbabwe was a food exporter until President Robert Mugabe launched a controversial land reform programme in 2000, a politically charged and violent campaign to forcibly resettle mainly white commercial farms with new black farmers.

The ensuing chaos undermined the agriculture-backed economy, which shrank to half its 2000 size. The country has relied on donor food ever since.

Deon Theron, president of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe, blames the land reform programme for the country's food crisis.

"We used to be a country that could export to the region and now we can't even feed ourselves," he said.

Last year, about six million people needed aid despite better rains and economic reforms introduced by the power-sharing government formed in February 2009 between Mugabe and long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai.

This year, Zimbabwe is set to harvest 1.5 million tonnes of grain, leaving the country with a 185,000-tonne shortfall, according to a crop assessment report by the Zimbabwean government and the United Nations.

Elizabeth Luanga, UN humanitarian coordinator in Zimbabwe, said a lack of funding from donors this year would put extra pressure on aid agencies to provide food relief to affected families, especially in rural areas.

Luanga said the food aid programme has only 26 percent of the money it needs.

"Unfortunately, in 2010 we have so far been confronted with serious cuts in funding," she said.

"It is clear that humanitarian assistance is still urgently required."

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