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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Zimbabwe's famished fields
Child in field of wilted maize
Crops have failed across the country

Hunger has tightened its grip in Zimbabwe, as thousands abandon their homes in search of food.


My three children and I just eat anything that is edible.

Miriam Banda
The shortages have reached critical levels in Masvingo province where over 2 million people urgently need food aid.

The government has failed to provide food to starving villagers and in Masvingo, thousands have left their homes in search of edible wild fruits and roots.

Others are pinning their hopes on striking gold. About 5,000 villagers have settled along the banks of the Vogondo river, about 40 km (25 miles) south-east of Masvingo town, where they are looking for nuggets.

One of the gold-diggers, Raphael Muchori, says: "If we go back home, we will starve to death."

Hungry mouths

In the worst affected areas of Masvingo province, floods have destroyed nearly all crops and livestock.

Miriam Banda, a mother of eight, said her family was now surviving by the grace of God since wild fruits have become standard fare.

"We just eat anything that is edible," she says. "My three children have since dropped out of school because of hunger".

In urban areas long queues of people searching for mealie-meal, the country's staple food, are ubiquitous.

Shortfall

The Grain Marketing Board has run out of maize and the situation shows no sign of improving.

The country has so far imported only 100,000 tons of maize from South Africa which is far below the country's monthly needs.

Zimbabwe needs about 150,000 tons a month to feed its population.

And where food is available, it is distributed along political lines.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says its members are left out from the food relief programmes.

The MDC's vice-chairman in Masvingo, Shaky Matake, said supporters "are not being given food by the government . They are sometimes even denied the right to buy the food if it is available".

Cold comfort

In a last-ditch effort to produce food, the government has planted maize near the town in Chiredzi, about 280km (160 miles) south east of Masvingo town.

But Mike Clarke of the Commercial Farmers Union says that will not help, given the possibility of frost there.

Food relief in Zimbabwe
Lucky Zimbabweans get food aid

"Farmers have tried on several occasions to grow the crop in the area to no avail," Mr Clarke said. "The programme is extremely expensive and will not succeed."

Officials from the meteorological department say it will be impossible to grow maize in the winter (June-August) because of the low temperatures.

Zimbabwe has also started importing yellow maize meant for animals to feed starving villagers.


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03 May 02 | Africa
27 Feb 02 | Africa
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