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February 28, 2010

Dry spell cuts 11 percent of Zimbabwe maize crop

by MacDonald Dzirutwe

Zimbabwe's government has declared 11 percent of its 2009/10 planted maize crop a write-off after it was badly damaged by a dry spell, and repeated calls for urgent imports, an official report showed.

Farmers had also increased the maize area to 1.7 million hectares from 1.5
million hectares in the previous season, boosted by better availability of
inputs after the formation of a new unity government that raised prospects
of economic recovery, the crop assessment report showed on February 24. It did not give estimates of maize production.

Zimbabweans had hoped for an end to food shortages that have gripped the
country since 2001 but most crops in southern and eastern Zimbabwe had been
destroyed by a prolonged dry spell, with the remaining crop being said to be
in fair condition.

The country needs to urgently import 500,000 tonnes of maize to avert
shortages, the report said, echoing calls by Agriculture Minister Joseph
Made earlier in February. That would formerly have been the equivalent of Zimbabwe's strategic grain reserve, but the country has not had a stockpile for more than a decade.

The southern African nation is battling to end food shortages that have been
blamed largely on President Robert Mugabe's drive to seize white-owned
commercial farms to resettle black people. The veteran leader blames drought
and sanctions.

The report also showed that the government and foreign aid agencies had
greatly improved availability of fertiliser and seed, in a break with the
past where farmers have failed to access farming inputs.

"We recommend emergency food relief programmes to areas affected by crop
failure (and) mobilisation of resources for both 2010 winter and summer
cropping should start now," it said.

The 2010/11 summer season starts in October.

The government will carry out a second assessment at the end of March, which is expected to give estimates of maize output.

But farmers' groups have already warned the country may need to import half
its maize needs because of the crop failure. Zimbabwe's annual maize
consumption is 2.2 million tonnes.

Reuters

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