Millions of Zimbabweans continue to face hunger in a country where food shortages are being exacerbated by runaway inflation and climate-induced drought.

Elias Shamba, a 53-year-old farmer says the weather has been getting hotter and drier in recent years. Last year he managed to harvest only six bags of maize and lost two rounds of planting because of drought.

When his stock of food rations ran out, he was forced to collect insects at night for the family’s meals.

“I am a farmer. I grow sorghum, maize and cotton. When food runs out we are now forced to survive mainly on the food that we receive from WFP,” said Shamba.

Years of drought have slashed food production in Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa.

The country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, fuel, medicines and electricity.

This year’s maize harvest was down 50% on 2018, with overall cereal output less than half the national requirement.

In August 2019, the World Food Programme (WFP) was forced to launch an emergency lean season assistance programme to meet rising needs, months earlier than anticipated.

Bread now costs 20 times what it cost six months ago, while the price of maize has nearly tripled over the same period.

Gladys Chikukwa is a vegetable trader at Sakubva, the second largest market in Zimbabwe.

“Things are rotting in this market because of prices, because today tomatoes will go for 250, tomorrow 300 dollars, tomorrow 400 dollars and people, they don’t have that money,” she said.

The UN agency has warned that communities will face an increasingly desperate situation unless adequate funding for a major relief operation materializes fast.

With nearly 8 million people – half the population – now food insecure, the agency is working to double the number of people it assists to 4.1 million.

The agency says it needs $200 million for its emergency response in the first half of 2020 alone.

“2019 has been an exceptionally tough year for all Zimbabweans. We see a factor, or combination of factors; economic downturn, climate change and subsequent droughts that have led more than 8 million people into food insecurity. As WFP we are looking at ramping up our response over the next couple of weeks to reach almost double of what we had planned,” said Niels Balzer, WFP deputy country director in Zimbabwe.

Drought and flooding have tightened the availability of food across much of southern Africa. WFP aims to purchase supplies from Tanzania, in the form of maize grain, as well as from Mexico, and pulses from Kenya and potentially the Black Sea area.