The United Nations on Tuesday warned hunger in Zimbabwe is on the rise and 2.2 million people will need food assistance next year.
The level of need is the worst since 2009, when Zimbabwe scrapped its own currency in favour of the US dollar in order to end record-breaking hyperinflation and attempt to stabilize an economy in a tailspin.
“The food security situation is deteriorating and is at the worst levels since 2009,” said Victoria Cavanagh, a spokeswoman for the UN’s World Food Programme in Harare.
“A quarter of the rural population will need food assistance in the pre-harvest season next year,” she said, referring to the first three months of 2014.
Food prices in Zimbabwe are already on the rise — in some cases up by 15 per cent — and could go even higher as the availability of commodities likes grains and cereals diminishes.
The country has been hit by a number of factors, including erratic rains this year and rising costs of goods like fertilizers.
Zimbabwe suffers from very high unemployment — some estimates put it as high as 70 per cent of the workforce — which means people cannot cope with higher prices.
The WFP will be providing food aid and also cash to the poorest, so that they can purchase goods on the local market. This should add some stimulus to the weak economy.
Zimbabwe was once self-sufficient for its food needs, but the agricultural sector has been badly hit over the last 15 years, in part because of land grabs of white-owned farms by the government.
The government itself estimates food production is half of what it was in 2000.
Investors, with their desperately needed foreign capital, remain wary of Zimbabwe as President Robert Mugabe, who was re-elected in July for another term to continue his 33 years in power, has pledged to expand nationalization schemes.