The United Nations World Food Programme has signed agreement with the government of Zimbabwe on the delivery and distribution of food aid to millions of people in the country.

The Memorandum of Understanding, (MOU), which was signed after several weeks of discussions with the government of Zimbabwe, sets out the framework under which food aid distributions take place, including clarifying government and WFP responsibilities, the WFP said.

“WFP welcomes the signing of this agreement, which will certainly assist in meeting our plans to deliver food aid to hungry people across Zimbabwe,” said Kevin Farrell, WFP country director for Zimbabwe.

“This MOU sets out the modalities for food aid deliveries and we are encouraged by the commitment to ensure procedures are formalised and followed,” Farrell said.

With generous support from a range of donors, WFP and its partner non-government organisations provided food aid to two million people in November, and is gearing up to feed more than three million Zimbabweans through vulnerable group feeding programmes.

This is in addition to ongoing food support for school children, orphans and people living with HIV/AIDS.

The MOU runs through to the end of June next year, at which point the food security of the most vulnerable will have to be reassessed.

In signing the MOU, Nicholas Goche, minister of public service, labour and social welfare, expressed appreciation for WFP’s efforts, which benefit vulnerable people in Zimbabwe.

The UN food agency’s response follows a poor harvest in 2005 and a household food survey that was conducted in May by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, which included Government, WFP and other UN agencies, and several NGOs.

VAC assessments conducted in June indicated that at least three million people would be food insecure during Zimbabwe’s lean season (Jan-April) although Government has recently acknowledged that given the very large price increases of food since then, the number of people in need of food assistance will now be higher.

WFP has appealed to the international community for assistance to import 300,000 tonnes of food to feed people who are considered most at risk of going hungry.

Food aid through WFP is distributed directly to vulnerable people free of charge and complements Government’s efforts to import and make available food through the parastatal Grain Marketing Board at subsidised rates.

WFP is particularly concerned about the limited availability of maize at the village level as well as the fact that an increasing number of people cannot afford it.

Incomes for all professions have declined in real terms due to spiralling inflation, which according to the International Monetary Fund is about 400%. Prices for maize grain in October showed an increase across the country of between 500% and 700% in comparison to a year earlier.

Compounding this scenario is a decline in the ownership of saleable assets as many people are experiencing their fourth consecutive year of food shortages and are now surviving on one meal or less per day.