Government will this year spread its food aid programme to vulnerable households in urban areas, as it moves to cushion residents against the fallout from El Nino-induced dry weather conditions, particularly during the lean season.

Agricultural experts usually describe the lean season as the time between the harvest and the first plant of the following cropping season.

Food aid is traditionally directed to rural areas, which make up the bulk of the country’s population, but this year major cities such as Harare and Bulawayo are expected to benefit.

Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza told The Sunday Mail last week that the food relief programme will begin soon.

“The Lean Season Rapid Assessment report indicates that food and nutrition insecurity extend to the urban population, with 40 percent of this population projected to be incapacitated to meet subsistence food needs. As a food-deficit mitigatory strategy, the Department of Social Welfare has requested for the grain from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement to feed the urban vulnerable groups,” said Dr Nzenza.

“The total grain tonnage required is 1 247.55 metric tonnes (mt), with 612,7 mt and 635 mt requested for Harare and Bulawayo Metropolitan provinces, respectively. However, these figures are expected to rise due to the increasing number of urban food-insecure households who require food assistance.

“Therefore, urban grain distributions will commence as soon as a positive response is received from the respective ministry,” she said.

The programme is currently ongoing in rural areas.

Government reportedly has the capacity to support 1,8-million households in need of food aid countrywide.

“Distribution of grain is ongoing and at the present moment, it is being done through the District Drought Relief Committees within the respective districts. A total of 602 792 households are currently being reached with a total of 30 139.60 mt of grain per month. However, with the release of the results of the ZimVAC Lean Season Rapid Assessment report for 2019, modalities are being put in place to re-target for increased coverage.”

It is believed that Matabeleland North (58 percent) and Mashonaland West (56 percent) had the highest proportion of food-insecure households, while Mashonaland Central and Midlands – both at 47 percent – have the lowest.

Minister Nzeza said Government will ensure that food distribution is not politicised.

Eligibility to the scheme, she said, will largely depend on vulnerability.

“However, it should be noted that my office is always open to receive reports regarding any challenges in the distribution of grain, including politicisation of grain distribution,” she said.

Government – which is buoyed by strategic grain reserves that presently stand at 1,1 million metric tonnes – says it has the ability to feed the nation for the next seven months.

Development partners such as the World Food Programme are encouragingly also weighing in to enhance the capacity of the food aid programme.

Further, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other development partners have pledged cooking oil, corn soya and cash to food-insecure households.

The National Climate Outlook Forum (NACOF) convened last year forecast normal- to below-normal rains in the six-month period through March this year.

Zimbabwe is among 25 high-risk countries globally to be negatively affected by El-Nino weather conditions.

The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee’s 2018 Rural Livelihoods Assessment Report estimates that more than 2,4 million people will be food insecure during the peak 2018-2019 lean season.Chronicle