HARARE - Zimbabwe may have to import over half the maize it needs this year to cover a shortfall after drought destroyed crops and left the country facing a severe food shortage, a farmers' group announced yesterday.
Zimbabwe has relied on food aid and imports since 2001 after President Robert Mugabe's government seized commercial farms from whites to resettle landless blacks, most of whom were poorly equipped and underfunded.
Zimbabwe's unity government, set up by Mugabe and rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, had projected a return to food self-sufficiency this year with maize output of 2,5million metric tons, double last year's yield.
But both black and white farmers' unions have forecast that production of maize, a staple in the nation's diet, will be nowhere near this figure.
"All indications are that this season will be a total disaster. We will be very lucky if we get more than 500000 metric tons," Deon Theron, president of the Commercial Farmers Union, which represents the 500 remaining white farmers, told Reuters.
"We need about 1,8million metric tons of maize, so over a million tonnes will have to be made up by imports." The government has indicated the current season would be poor, but has not revised its output target, saying it will soon carry out a nationwide crop assessment.
Theron said apart from the drought, which affected much of the late planted crop, poor preparations and continued disturbances on white farms had also contributed to another poor season.
"We predicted the dry conditions and advised farmers to plant early, but a lot of our farmers who were going to put seed in the ground early were being harassed," Theron said.
"Producing adequate food for ourselves is going to be a problem as long as we don't find a way forward and resolve the disputes on the farms for the benefit of the country."
The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers' Union, which represents most of the newly resettled black farmers, also gave a grim assessment of the current agricultural season.
"We are likely to have a food shortage and now appeal to the government and other stakeholders to start preparing to deal with the food shortfall," ZCFU president William Nyabonda told state media. - Reuters