January 23, 2020 / 1:09 PM / 24 days ago

Zimbabwe says grain stocks running out after drought

HARARE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has only 100,000 tonnes of grain in its strategic reserves, enough to last just over a month, as the southern African nation suffers the effects of a severe drought, according to the agriculture minister.

More than half the country’s population faces food shortages after maize harvests halved last year. The country has received little rain since the summer planting season started in November, and crops are wilting in some areas.

Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri told officials in Bulawayo, southwest Zimbabwe, on Wednesday that the government should help farmers cope with drought by building more irrigation infrastructure.

“As things stand at the current moment, we have less than 100,000 (metric tonnes) of grain in the strategic grain reserve and imports, especially of food, are ballooning,” he said in a speech seen by Reuters.

The grain reserve has capacity to hold 500,000 tonnes but it has been run down after a poor harvest. Zimbabwe consumes 80,000 tonnes of maize every month.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has said Zimbabwe needs to import at least 800,000 tonnes of maize this year, mainly from Tanzania, South Africa and South America.

The country’s grain millers group says it has bought 100,000 tonnes of maize from South Africa and Brazil and expects the first consignment to arrive next week.

Shops are running out of subsidised maize meal while prices of basic goods soar. Zimbabwe is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in a decade, dashing hopes for a quick recovery under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

The United Nations World Food Programme needs $200 million to feed 4.1 million Zimbabweans after saying the country faced another poor harvest this year because of sparse rains.

“We need to build the capacity of our farmers to be resilient to climate change shocks and stresses such as drought, floods, crop and livestock diseases, among others,” Shiri said. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe Editing by Katya Golubkova)

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