The figures do not add up. According to the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet), an agency funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which works in conjunction with the department of Agricultural Research and Extension Service (AREX), a total of 1.2 million tonnes of maize was available in the country from April to Mid-November.
The maize comprised 748 773 tonnes which had been imported, 607 000 tonnes by the government and 111 773 tonnes by non-governmental organisations, as well as 505 581 tonnes from the 2001-2 harvest. The maize was more than enough to feed the nation.
It was 23 percent greater than the national requirement, estimated at between 1 and 1.1 million tonnes. But situation on the ground was quite different. Food shortages were rampant across the nation.
FEWS says one possible explanation for the discrepancy is that the distribution of available maize has been in adequate while the other is that many households do not have money to buy maize even if it is available in the market.
Both reasons seem to be way off the mark. People are prepared to pay anything for the maize with some reports saying people are exchanging a cow or an ox for as little as a bag of maize.
The only logical explanation could be that unscrupulous people who have access to maize are creating an artificial shortage by hoarding the staple and then selling it at exorbitant prices or diverting it away from needy people.
One recent press report said some millers were selling the maize as stockfeed for as much as $100 000 a tonne when they buy it for only $16 000 a tonne.
FEWS says current food imports, coming at 99 000 tonnes a month, should be able to meet 73 percent of the national requirement, but reports from donor agencies say the number of people in need of food aid will rise from 6.7 million to 7.2 million by March.
Ironically, while there was a raucous when Zimbabwe rejected genetically modified maize insisting that it should be milled before being shipped into the country with donors clamouring that President Mugabe was deliberately starving the nation, only a fifth of the promised maize seems to have been delivered so far.
Like in all humanitarian efforts, this will mean that if the country has a good harvest, food aid will continue to trickle in when the country no longer needs it, thus disrupting sales and production of local maize.
During the 1992 drought Zimbabwe imported 350 000 tonnes of yellow maize that it did not require. It cost the country US$250 million which it obtained as a loan from the World Bank.
When the government told the world body that it did not need the extra maize, it was told the “deal was too far advanced” to be stopped. The Grain Marketing Board had to write off 50 000 tonnes because it was rotten and was not even fit for animal consumption.
It also had problems disposing of 469 000 tonnes of maize that it had imported. It ended up selling 317 000 tonnes as stockfeed while a further 102 000 tonnes were re-exported to the Middle East at a loss.