New York Times and UN at loggerheads over state of Zimbabwean agriculture

Rural Zimbabweans in need of UN food relief after Mugabe's 'successful land reform' Photo: WFP

Whereas the New York Times sang the praises of Zimbabwean “land reform” only a few weeks ago, the UN food agency has just said that hunger was worsening in Zimbabwe after erratic rains, shortages of seeds and fertiliser and “poor agricultural practices” in the troubled economy.

This, the UN said, had led to a reduction in fields planted with the main staple foods. The World Food Programme said cereal harvests in the current season were down by an estimated one-third compared with last year. It said about 1.1million rural people would need food aid up to December, rising to 1.6million in the traditionally “lean months” to March.

The agency’s latest bulletin yesterday said $119-million was needed for upcoming food assistance. It said food shortfalls were becoming especially critical in arid southern Zimbabwe where Matabeles live. The Zimbabwean leader has previously been accused of genocide in Matabeleland where 20 000 people were killed in the early 1990s, with a large proportion of the inhabitants fleeing to South Africa.

Irregular rains, poor agricultural practices and ongoing economic challenges have pushed Zimbabwe into an increasingly critical food security situation, the United Nations food relief agency warned.

Lydia Polgreen of The New York Times Photo: Twitter

However, the New York Times’s correspondent in Johannesburg, Lydia Pogreen, differs from the WFP assessment and sees a “golden lining” amid any dark clouds over Zimbabwean agriculture. On 20 July 2012 the New York-based liberal paper wrote:

“The success of these small-scale farmers has led some experts to reassess the legacy of Zimbabwe’s forced land redistribution, even as they condemn its violence and destruction. “

The paper also stressed that the illegal confiscation of white-owned land does not necessarily lead to greater farming productivity but creates greater equality. It quoted a Zimbabwean pro-Mugabe researcher as saying: “But does it share wealth more equitably? Does it give people a sense of dignity and ownership? Those things have value, too.”

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the past several weeks have provided signs of growing distress across the African country with high food prices, empty silos and granaries, and a reduced cereal harvest, aggravating the country’s food security outlook.

“Late and erratic rains, poor agricultural practices, constrained access to inputs, and a reduction in planted area have all contributed to reducing the national cereal harvest by 33 per cent this year,” WFP said in a news release on its Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment (ZimVAC). It further noted that a lack of diversified livelihoods and the rising cost of living were combining to create a perfect storm of income and food insecurity.

WFP, in fact, pointed out that according to the ZimVAC, over 1.6 million Zimbabweans will be in need of food assistance during the peak hunger period spanning January to March 2013.

ZimVAC is an annual study conducted by the Government of Zimbabwe in collaboration with UN agencies and non-governmental organisations in order to estimate national food insecurity levels.

In response to the deteriorating food situation, the UN agency announced it was scaling up operations in conjunction with the Government and other stakeholders to provide a combination of food distribution and cash transfers to those in need.

The WFP further noted that it would require approximately $119 million to complete its operations in Zimbabwe until the end of March 2013, though it said that almost three-quarters of the funding has not yet been accounted for.