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Lean season ahead for Zim

The maize growing on John Gapare's three-hectare plot in rural Mutoko, some 90km northeast of the...

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The maize growing on John Gapare's three-hectare plot in rural Mutoko, some

90km northeast of the Zimbabwean capital Harare, is of uneven height and

yellowing, with some plants already wilting, and for the first time in nearly a

decade the 50-year-old farmer is expecting a poor harvest.

''The majority of the villagers have been having good harvests mainly due to

good rains, but things are different this year,'' Gapare told IRIN.

He said the rains had come late, around the first week of December, and did

not last for long. When they resumed, they were erratic.

''When the first crop we planted in December started wilting, some of us

decided to plant new crops hoping that the rains would be reliable, but as you

can see, we have not had any luck. Most of the people here will have to buy

grain from other places or mealie-meal [maize meal] from the shops,'' said

Gapare, adding that some villagers were already feeding their wilted crops to

their livestock.

Gapare estimates that his stock of maize will last his family another six

weeks, but said: "I know of many among us who have already run out of food yet

they don't have the money to buy from the shops."

Denford Chimbwanda, president of the Grain and Cereals Producers Association

(GCPA), said a number of normally wet regions in Mashonaland Central, West and

East, as well as parts of Manicaland Province, had been affected by poor rains.

''Some farmers in the areas that normally receive reliable rains will have

good harvests, but a substantial number have been affected. In these areas...

villagers are using the water in rivers to tend to their vegetable gardens and

selling the produce,'' Chimbwanda told IRIN.

In the more arid regions of southwestern Zimbabwe most crops had failed said

Chimbwanda, adding that the late disbursement of subsidised fertilizer, and

other inputs too expensive for the ordinary farmer to buy, had played a role.

Several officials from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), a government

controlled utility responsible for distributing inputs, were recently arrested

by the Anti-Corruption Commission, while hundreds of farmers have yet to

receive payment for grain they sold to the board two seasons ago.

Crop assessments - with UN agencies excluded

I know of many among us who have already run out of food yet they don't have

the money to buy food from the shops

The Ministry of Agriculture is still carrying out the first round of its crop

and food assessment. Like last year, it has excluded UN agencies, including the

World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that

used to be part of the exercise.

The exclusion of humanitarian organizations makes it difficult for them to

plan food distributions, but speaking to IRIN in 2011, Agriculture Minister

Joseph Made, a member of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, described the

crop and food assessments as a "a national security matter that should be

treated with the utmost caution and exclusivity".

Timeline

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