By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, March 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Most Tanzanians have experienced hunger in the past three months, with food shortages most severe in drought-hit rural areas, a countrywide survey found, despite government denials of a food crisis.
The survey by Tanzanian think tank Twaweza found that 78 percent of people had suffered food shortages in the past three months. In rural areas the figure rose to 84 percent compared to 64 percent in cities.
The findings came despite repeated government denials that the East African country was suffering food shortages. President John Magufuli has accused opposition politicians of fomenting a "fake" hunger crisis.
The Twaweza survey said in a country where 80 percent of the population rely on subsistence farming, some families have begun skipping meals.
In February, 65 percent of respondents had worried about their families not having enough to eat in the previous seven days, compared to 45 percent last September.
The research, part of polling platform Sauti za Wananchi—Africa's first national survey of its kind, shows a sharp decline in food availability among families in the past three months.
"The current shortages and ongoing food insecurity underline the context of general vulnerability and income poverty," researchers said.
Drought in East Africa has sent prices of staples such as maize and sorghum soaring, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said last month.
According to Bank of Tanzania data, the wholesale price of maize, a staple crop has doubled in the past 2 years from 400 Tanzanian shillings in 2015 to 1,253 ($0.60) per kilo in 2017.
Michael Dunford, head of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Tanzania said the U.N. agency is concerned about food insecurity in Tanzania and is monitoring the situation.
"There are pockets of food insecurity in the country. More information will be apparent in the next season," Dunford said.
He said a recent government assessment identified more than a million people in 55 districts facing acute food insecurity between now and April 2017, before the next harvest in May.
Those in need of urgent food assistance are estimated at over 118,000.
However, Tanzania's agriculture minister for Charles Tizeba said the situation is manageable.
"We are generally satisfied by various efforts taken to bring this situation under control," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. (Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, resilience and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)