NewsDay | Dumisani Sibanda - Bureau Chief | 2012-07-28 International relief food agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), has warned that 1,6 million Zimbabweans might require food aid over the next few months after most of their crops failed because of drought. In a statement released yesterday, WFP cited Matabeleland North and South, Midlands, Masvingo and parts of Mashonaland and Manicaland as the worst-affected areas, adding the number of people in need of food aid this year had increased by 60% from last year. The number of people in need is 60% higher than the one million who needed food assistance during the last lean season, said WFP country director Felix Bamezon. The impact, he said, would be felt most between January and March next year. The United Nations World Food Programme and our partners are gearing up to respond to this large rise in food needs. Our field staff are already reporting signs of distress in rural areas, including empty granaries and farmers selling off their livestock to make ends meet. The relief agency said this years cereal harvest was 1 076 772 metric tons one-third lower than that of last year and the lowest since 2009. To meet the increased needs, WFP and its partners will undertake food distributions with regionally procured cereals as well as imported vegetable oil and pulses. Cash transfers will also be used in areas where there are functioning markets so that people have the flexibility to choose where, and from whom, they purchase their cereals. The WFP said humanitarian and commercial cereal imports from neighbouring countries would also be needed to meet Zimbabwes food shortages. WFPs seasonal targeted assistance programme, due to run through till the end of March next year, has been budgeted at $119 million but is currently facing a shortfall of approximately $87 million. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has already confirmed a contribution of $18 million to be used for the purchase of vegetable oil and pulses.