The World Food Programme says 45% of Zimbabweans are suffering chronic malnourishment because of "poor agricultural policies and a declining economy". The WFP feeds about 2.5 million people and other agencies are providing food to about 1 million. But large numbers of people are surviving on far fewer calories than they need, leaving them vulnerable to illnesses, particularly the large proportion of the population with HIV at risk of developing full-blown Aids.
The government had promised "the mother of all agricultural seasons" this year after repeated crop failures. But agriculture has again been hit by the weather, compounded by a fall in production since the redistribution of white-owned farms to black farmers. The situation has been worsened by a shortage of fertilisers because of a lack of currency for imports, and frequent power cuts that have hit irrigation. Overall food production has fallen by about 70%. Mugabe has, until now, ridiculed claims of a food crisis as "western propaganda". Now he says it is a foreign conspiracy led by Britain to return the land to white farmers.
At a separate rally to hand out 500 tractors, 50,000 ox-drawn ploughs and combine harvesters to small-scale farmers, Mugabe blamed food shortages on western sanctions, which Britain says are aimed only against senior political figures and their families, but which the Harare government alleges are also blocking international loans. "When government embarked on the land reform programme, the dark forces of imperialism sought to strangle our agro-based economy through the spiteful closure of financial loans and grants to us. They tell us that the sanctions are targeted - lies!" Mugabe said ."This hate programme by Britain and her fellow racists imposed unjustified sanctions on Zimbabwe in futile attempts to frighten us off our land. They should remember that we are not that easily scared away. Indeed, they should also remember that we cannot desecrate the sacrifices that we paid for this country, not today, never, never, ever."
Mugabe said the government had ordered 530,000 tonnes of maize but only 5% of that had been delivered because of "logistical problems" caused by Zambian railway workers "taking their time" to load goods wagons "as they did not understand the severity of the problem in Zimbabwe". The country needs 2m tons of maize each year to feed its population.
Hmm, I find it grimly amusing to see Mugabe trying to foist the blame for the rank incompetence of his regime on to external conspirators. The truth is that he is the architect of Zimbabwe’s misfortune and nobody else. Zimbabweans go to the polls on 29 March but it is unlikely that he will be defeated. Despots like Mugabe will do everything they can to cling to power. I only hope it does not end in civil war.