- HARARE (AP) - Long lines
of people waiting for corn meal snake through the streets of a nation that
was once the breadbasket of southern Africa. Some wait for days, sleeping
in lines so they won't lose their place. Girls 13 and under are being married
off for the bride price to buy expensive black-market food. Many people
are getting one meal a day. And Zimbabwe's hunger crisis is sure to get
worse. Drought, a crashing economy and a land reform program that has destroyed
commercial farming have pushed millions of Zimbabweans to the brink of
starvation. Five other southern African countries are also facing severe
hunger this year, but Zimbabwe is by far the worst off. The U.N. World
Food Program says nearly half of its 13 million people will need food aid.
A country that used to export food to hungry neighbors will need to import
a staggering 2 million tons of grain just to get through the year.
- "This is unprecedented," said Andrew Timpson
of Save the Children UK. "We're very worried indeed." The harvest
has just ended, and already the country is running out of corn, the staple
food. It is about to use the last of its wheat, and supplies of cooking
oil and animal feed are dwindling. With no hard currency reserves and an
economy shredded by political unrest, the government will almost certainly
be unable to import enough grain to feed its people, even with hundreds
of thousands of tons of donated food, economists and aid workers said.
Meanwhile, much of Zimbabwe's most productive farmland lies fallow as the
government continues its efforts to seize nearly all the land owned by
the nation's white commercial farmers, by far Zimbabwe's most productive
food producers, and redistribute it to landless blacks.
- The government says it is rectifying a hated legacy of
British colonial rule. But human rights activists accuse it of using the
seizures to reward its supporters with land while punishing white farmers
and their hundreds of thousands of farm workers, who are seen as opposition
stalwarts. The government is also accused of using hunger as a weapon,
shipping state-subsidized grain only to strongholds of President Robert
Mugabe's Zanu PF party. In some areas, people must show party membership
cards to get food; in others, food is distributed at ruling party meetings,
said Tawanda Hondora, chairman of Zimbabwe's Human Rights Forum. On at
least one occasion, ruling party militants temporarily prevented Zimbabwe's
Roman Catholic Justice and Peace Commission from feeding hungry children
and pregnant women. "They wanted to do the distributions themselves,"
said Tarcisius Zimbiti, the commission's acting director.
- Zimbabweans increasingly have to buy corn on the black
market for two to three times the price of state-subsidized corn in a country
with 60 percent unemployment and 122 percent annual inflation. "It
is too tough to survive," said William Marimo, 39, who lives in the
rural slum of Porta Farm, 20 miles west of Harare, the capital. A three-month
drought at a crucial phase of the growing season is mainly to blame. But
even Zimbabwean officials acknowledge the land seizures made things worse.
"It compounds, it exacerbates, but it is not the primary cause of
the problem," Finance Minister Simba Makoni said. Zimbabwe produced
only about 480,000 metric tons of corn this year, about a fourth of what
it grew two years ago. Commercial farmers brought in 850,000 metric tons
of that 2000 harvest on 400,000 acres. This year, they planted about 40
percent of that area, harvesting only 185,400 metric tons.
- The winter wheat on what remains of Vernon Nicolle's
farm is about knee-high now, right where it should be despite the weather,
thanks to high-tech irrigation. On nearby land his family used to own,
there is nothing but weeds, he said. Until recently, Nicolle, 58, and his
extended family produced one-quarter of Zimbabwe's wheat crop on their
12 huge farms. Nine of those farms are gone now, seized by the government,
and parts of the remaining three are occupied by armed ruling party militants
and inaccessible to the farmers. The Nicolle family was able to farm winter
wheat on only one-fifth of the land it used to cultivate. Some of the settlers
and militants on the other land planted wheat, but didn't irrigate it,
Nicolle said. Those seeds have not even sprouted.
- With their experience, expensive irrigation equipment,
fertilizers and pesticides, commercial farmers generally coax about five
times more food out of an acre than small-scale farmers, food experts say.
During this year's drought, they were 10 times more productive than small-scale
farmers. Experts predict this year's winter wheat crop will at best total
only 150,000 metric tons, less than half the normal harvest. But that was
before the government ordered nearly all white farmers to stop working
their fields by June 24 - regardless of whether crops were already planted
- and prepare to leave their houses. Government officials did not return
messages seeking comment. But they have defended their land policies, saying
that after two decades of independence, many Zimbabweans were frustrated
that whites, less than 1 percent of the population, controlled the country's
wealth, and that about 4,500 white commercial farmers owned one-third of
the nation's farmland while 7 million black farmers shared the rest.
- After encouraging ruling party militants to occupy many
of the commercial farms two years ago, Mugabe's government targeted 95
percent of white-owned farmland for rapid seizure and redistribution. Zimbabwe
has suffered severe food shortages before. In 1992, the worst drought in
a century ravaged nearly its entire harvest. But it had a massive food
surplus from the previous year, cash to import food and good relations
with donor countries. This time there's no surplus. The three top hard
currency earners have been badly weakened: tobacco farming by the land
seizures, tourism by the political instability and gold mining by an absurdly
low fixed currency exchange rate. Key donor countries are incensed at government-inspired
political violence, Mugabe's land policies and his re-election in March
in a ballot that many international and domestic observers judged flawed.
The government has also created a grain monopoly. If it doesn't let private
companies import grain, "the situation could go from bad to catastrophic,"
said Judith Lewis, regional director of the World Food Program.
- At Porta Farm and elsewhere, no subsidized corn is on
sale, and people are struggling. Hungry children fall asleep in school,
or drop out because their families can no longer afford the fees. Naki
Bhilias, 57, worked on a nearby farm until it was occupied last year. Now
she follows combines through the fields of the few remaining farms gleaning
scraps for herself and her husband. Two years ago, Porta Farm housed about
8,000 families, most farm laborers. It has since swelled to 12,000 families,
many new arrivals having been expelled from farms where they lived and
worked. The workers have resorted to poaching fish from a river in a nearby
national park and selling them at the roadside. Since losing his 16-year
job on a farm last year, Emmanuel Panganayi has been forced to illegally
collect and sell firewood from the park to feed his wife and two children.
When that was not enough, he sold off his four chairs to buy a few days'
worth of black-market corn meal. Now he has little left to sell. "I
don't make enough money and things are getting very expensive," he
said. "I will end up selling the bed."
- Source: Associated Press Published: Sun 30-Jun-2002 Author: