Zambia’s Vice President Guy Scott was in Harare last week to finalise the maize deal, but Mugabe says the two neighbours are as yet to put a value on the rescue cargo.
Mugabe said following his meeting with Scott, he spoke to Zambian President Michael Sata on the phone who took pity on his neighbour’s poor bank balance.
“When I was talking to him about what we had in mind about paying, he said ‘no, no, no’. He is a humorous man as you know,” Mugabe told a conference in Harare on Thursday to launch the Food and Nutrition Security Policy and Implementation Plan.
“He said ‘let’s have the food in the stomachs of our people first, and when we have the food in the stomachs, then we will talk about the price’ and I said ‘that is a great man, he shares our affliction’.”
Mugabe’s partners in the coalition government have expressed fears that the maize – which is set to be distributed free in drought-prone provinces like Matabeleland South and North, Masvingo as well as parts of Manicaland and the Midlands – could be used as a campaign tool through selective distribution.
The conference was largely boycotted by the MDC parties in the ruling coalition with Zanu PF – with just two MDC-T ministers in attendance. Parliamentary and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga and Obert Gutu, the Deputy Minister of Justice, were the only ones other than Zanu PF ministers in attendance.
Mugabe told the gathering: “The official launch of the Food and Nutrition Security and its implementation plan, indicates the government’s strategic shift in addressing an issue which is not only of national, but global concern as well.
“It is a well-established fact that food and nutrition insecurity lead to a vicious cycle of malnutrition, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired mental and physical development, reduced productivity and poverty.
“In Zimbabwe, the nutrition situation is of concern to the government as one out of every three children is chronically malnourished. Twenty-five percent of all deaths of children under the age of five are attributed to nutritional deficiencies and 47 percent of women are anaemic.
“Given the recent challenges of spiralling food prices and climate change, the food situation in our country has worsened as the number of people unable to meet their daily food requirements has increased by 21 percent since 1995.”
Good mood … Mugabe and Mujuru share a joke on Thursday
Mugabe said apart from food handovers, some remedies lay in supporting new black farmers who benefitted from his government’s land reforms over the last 13 years.
“The government will continue to take measures that empower farmers, especially small-holder farmers and women so that they access cheap finance, knowledge on climate and the environment, smart farming systems, infrastructure and farm machinery,” Mugabe said.
Vice President Joice Mujuru, who chairs a National Food and Nutrition task force which was first introduced to respond to the 1993 drought, will lead the government programme to “co-ordinate and implement multi-sectoral interventions to address the challenges of food and nutrition insecurity”, she said.