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Does Zimbabwe need food aid?
February 20, 2007

There is no question that food aid is necessary in this country; the lethal cocktail of aids, poverty and malnutrition is quietly killing 3500 every week. While the Mugabe regime is clearly the responsible party for these killings, the victims of this regime cannot be made to suffer more by withholding food aid from them in a bid to punish the government.

If anyone needs to be convinced of the need for food aid, they should read the latest Fews Net report on the hunger situation:

  • 1.4 million rural people (perhaps even more) will not have adequate food during the peak hunger period
  • the CSO food poverty line went up almost ten times between December 2005 and November 2006; it increased by an average of 23 percent every month during this period
  • in November 2006, more than 3 000 MT of food was distributed to at least 500 000 people
  • The forecast is for below normal rainfall for almost the whole country
  • domestic wheat production is expected to yield less than 135 000 MT, against a requirement of about 265 000 MT, with the highest deficits in the southern districts and the western and eastern margins of the country

This makes grim reading.

The main problem, then, lies not in the granting of food aid, but rather in the way in which the EU and the West have kowtowed to the Zanu PF regime. Millions of (US) dollars worth of food aid has been used as a weapon by the regime, and of this we have numerous examples:

  • Zanu PF MP's and councilors clearly have a degree of control over distributors of food aid, and have used this control to manipulate distribution in the run up to all the elections held in this decade
  • in the most recent RDC elections, the chiefs told villagers that they would 'wait to see how the election result turns out' before distribution took place
  • Andrew Langa (the Zanu PF MP for Insiza) is often in attendance at functions held by some of the food-distributing NGO's
  • Binga has consistently been sidelined for its obstinacy in not recognizing the supremacy of the ruling party
  • Serious corruption exists around the sourcing and sale of grain
  • Sale of donated food to the GMB takes place

Added to this, The Grain Marketing Board, through which all maize must pass, appears to be bankrupt. They have failed to pay farmers for their 2005 maize crop (at $40 - revalued - per tonne) and for their 2006 crop (at $4 000 - revalued - per tonne); in many instances this maize was seized at gunpoint by the parastatal.

In many instances, former Agritex workers are the ones employed by NGO's to organize and distribute food aid - a bitter irony as these are the very people who facilitated the farm invasions, and who now drive around in fancy 4x4 vehicles and earn US$-linked salaries. Quite apart from the utter inappropriateness of the situation, they are hardly likely to be impartial in their work of distribution.

Commercial farmers are reporting the Catch-22 situation which they are caught in, courtesy of the NGO's misguided policies: their farm workers are resigning from their jobs because they will receive more food for their families if they are unemployed.

We have no argument then, with the fact of distribution of food by the NGO's, but the manner in which this is being done is flawed, and we believe that it is incumbent upon the West to find more responsible ways of distributing food, through apolitical means.

We suggest that the churches are best placed to assist in this task, and should be the international community's first port of call - remember that over 90% of Zimbabweans belong to a religious group. Many religious organizations have developed infrastructure which, with help, could handle the logistics of food distribution. They have some means or another of transport, and their church buildings could be used for short term storage, and as distribution centres.

Failing that, the neutral NGO's could be brought in to assist. Zimbabwe boasts some of the best civic and social organizations in Africa, such as Orap, The Legal Resources Foundation, various Aids organizations, mission hospitals and mission schools. Again, these have existing links to the rural communities which they serve, and could provide an impartial service, linking the donors with the beneficiaries.

It is also imperative that the NGO's engaged in food aid bring independent monitors into the field to ensure fair distribution.

If the regime baulks at such threats to its control over food supply, the donor countries should become more strident in their demands: increasing international pressure on Mugabe to put an end to human rights abuses in his country, publicly and vocally linking human rights abuses to the humanitarian crisis, and demonizing him in the international forum. The food must still come in, but Mugabe must be made to suffer.

We are moving towards catastrophe with the current dry spell, and drought is now a reality. The regime will of course use this to their advantage, by blaming the starvation on drought and on the West. But the reality is that people are dying, and food needs to get to them. It is not enough that the food is brought in by the international NGO's, it must get to the people in need, and not be hijacked by politicians and their cronies - lives are at stake! 

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