Zvishavane - As many as 2.2 million people – one quarter of the rural population – are now in need of food assistance. This follows last year’s poor harvest caused by factors including erratic weather patterns and high seed and fertilizer prices. WFP had planned to be assisting 1.8 million people at this stage of the ‘lean season’ (the period before next month’s harvest when most rural families have exhausted their own-produced food stocks) but can only reach 1.2 million people owing to funding challenges.
Sarudzai Mandizvidza (38) is one of the farmers who did not harvest anything in Zvishavane, some 300 kms south of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. A plot of land that normally provides her family of seven with enough to eat and some to sell at the market did not yield even enough to last them a month. Currently she is receiving assistance from WFP.
"Times are hard," says Sarudzai. "Without the assistance we're getting, I'd have to send the children to stay with relatives." In good years, she would fend for the family by taking odd jobs on neighbouring farms but they too suffered bad harvests. In her community, as in many others places, maize prices are currently up to half as high as they were this time last year. WFP's assistance programme which began in October last year and usually runs until March when the harvests are expected has made a crucial difference for many struggling farmers.
However, a shortfall of $60 million for the next six months has forced WFP to cut back its activities and pull out of some areas altogether.
"We would have loved to do more," says WFP Country Director Sory Ouane. "Due to resource constraints, we have had to prioritise, in some cases issuing only half-rations in order to sustain activities until now."
As many as 2.2 million people - one quarter of the rural population - are now in need of food assistance, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) rural livelihoods assessment. but funding constraints means that WFP is only able to reach 1.2 million rural people with food assistance. And there could be deeper cuts to come. As of March, WFP and its partners will have to further reduce activities under both its relief and the health & nutrition programmes. WFP is, however, committed to maintaining life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable groups - malnourished children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.