, HARARE, September 3- At least 2.2 million Zimbabweans will need food aid in the coming months after poor rainfall and higher farming costs produced low yields, the UN food agency said Tuesday.
The figure is the highest since early 2009 when more than half the 13 million population required food support, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
“Hunger is on the rise in Zimbabwe with an estimated 2.2 million people one in four of the rural population expected to need food assistance during the pre-harvest period early next year,” the WFP said in a statement.
“Many districts, particularly in the south, harvested very little and people are already trying to stretch out their dwindling food stocks,” said WFP country director Sory Ouane.
An assessment team from the government, the UN and other food security agencies compiled the figures.
The WFP attributed the shortages to “adverse weather conditions, the unavailability and high cost of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers and projected high cereal prices due to the poor maize harvest”.
Corn is the staple source of starch in Zimbabwe.
WFP monitors found that grain prices were 15 percent higher in rural parts of Zimbabwe than last year, leaving many unable to afford a meal.
The agency would start food handouts in October and scale up until the harvest in March.
Once a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe has been facing perennial food shortages and had to cover its deficit with imports from neighbouring countries.
The government blames the shortages on poor rains while critics attribute the low yields to President Robert Mugabe’s land reforms.
Some 4,000 white farmers were driven off their land in a violent and politically charged campaign launched by Mugabe’s supporters in 2000.
Landless blacks, the majority of whom lacked the means to farm, took over the farms.