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February 16, 2010

EU gives Zimbabwe $13 million for smallholder farmers

The European Union has announced a $13 million fund to help thousands of Zimbabwean smallholder farmers, in a bid to revive the southern African country's agriculture sector after years of decline.

A former regional bread basket, Zimbabwe has suffered persistent food shortages since 2001, when President Robert Mugabe began a drive to seize white-owned commercial farms to resettle landless blacks.

The EU's food security co-ordinator in Zimbabwe, Pierre-Luc Vanhaeverbeke, told a news conference that 80,000 households would benefit from the $13 million donation through training and farming inputs such as seed and fertiliser.

The United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) will coordinate the EU agricultural facility, as the bloc continues to shun direct cooperation with the government under sanctions imposed in 2002 over electoral fraud and rights abuses.

Mugabe, who formed a power-sharing government with former opposition rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai last February, accuses the West of undermining his rule as punishment for his land reforms.

Smallholder farmers have traditionally produced about 80 percent of Zimbabwe's staple maize, but a combination of seed and fertiliser shortages and limited access to funding have seen a sharp decline in output.

Zimbabwe, which requires at least 1.8 million tonnes of the staple grain annually, produced 1.2 million tonnes in the 2008/9 season.

The government -- which initially projected a 2.5 million tonne yield this year -- and farmers' unions have warned of a dip in output in the current season due to a lengthy mid-season dry spell.

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made last week called for the immediate importation of 500,000 tonnes of maize as a strategic grain reserve.


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