Zimbabwe has appealed for food aid to counter possible starvation among its people, the United Nations World Food Programme said on Thursday.
The country ranks as the worst-hit among southern African states experiencing severe food shortages in 2002-03 due to a combination of drought, floods and poorly planned land redistribution, according to US charity Relief Web.
WFP representative in Zimbabwe Kevin Farrell told reporters Robert Mugabe's government had indicated Zimbabwe faced a maize deficit of 711,000 tonnes.
The country’s Grain Marketing Board (GMB) reported farmers had produced less than a million tonnes, and reserves are only equal to a quarter of this years harvest.
Until the late nineties, Zimbabwe produced a maize surplus of over half a million tonnes.
Millions face famine
The appeal comes about a fortnight after WFP urged the government to request donor aid for some five and a half million people seen needing emergency food in the current marketing season.
"We now have the appeal in hand and certainly it has been a bit of a while in coming...We are trying to resource 350,000 tonnes on top of the carry-over that we have of a little over 100,000 tonnes," Farrell said.
The remaining shortfall is to be partly covered by bilateral donations from Britain and the US, according to Farrell.
"In the meantime we are faced with this immediate problem looming at the end of August, beginning of September, the real risk that we're going to run out of supplies.
No quick fix
But even if countries agree to donate large quantities of maize soon, the crisis will not end anytime soon.
WFP said in June it would take at least three months after a donor pledge was made for food to arrive in the country.
Another cause for concern is the GMB had not indicated whether it had any plans to independently import significant quantities of food in the coming few months.
"The general situation is more difficult than last year because of this unknown quantity, which is how much is going to be able to come in commercially. It's going to be difficult to fill that deficit without some involvement of the private
sector," Farrell said.
The GMB has a monopoly on all imports and exports of maize and wheat, but Farrell claims Mugabe's government has indicated it would now allow some forms of private sector participation in maize imports to ease shortages.