U.N. warns of another poor harvest in Zimbabwe next year

The UN expert said eight million people would be affected by the end of the year

HARARE (Reuters) – The United Nations warned on Tuesday that Zimbabwe faced another poor harvest in 2020 because of patchy rains, compounding problems for millions of people already grappling with a drought and the worst economic crisis in a decade.

Soaring inflation, shortages of foreign exchange, fuel and electricity have brought back memories of the hyperinflation of a decade ago, amid criticism that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has failed to turn around the economy.

“This season’s rains are again late and inadequate, with planted seeds having failed to germinate in many areas,” the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement.

“Forecasts of continuing hot and dry weather in the weeks ahead signal another poor harvest in April, putting lives and livelihoods at risk.”

Output for the staple maize fell 50% to 900,000 tonnes this year, according to official data. The government has said it plans to import 800,000 tonnes to make up for the deficit.

Facing soaring prices for seeds, fertilizer and chemicals, some farmers have reduced planting during the summer cropping season that started in November, farmers’ unions said.

A majority of Zimbabweans live in rural areas and survive on farming. But the southern African nation has only had one year of normal rainfall in the past five, according to WFP officials.

WFP says it needs $200 million in the first half of next year to assist 4.1 million Zimbabweans.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has said the government will spend $133 million next year on subsidies for maize meal to keep the price of the most consumed food affordable.

The economic crisis has led to growing political tensions, with police clamping down on dissent, leading to opposition claims that Mnangagwa is reverting to the harsh tactics seen under the late Robert Mugabe’s rule.