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Zimbabwe has had to start importing grain before the end of the agricultural season because a prolonged drought has reduced estimated food harvests.
Agriculture Minister Joseph Made says Zimbabwe must import 500,000 tons of corn (maize) to ensure food stability. This is in response to the protracted dry spell that has seen crops dying in most of the country.
But Commercial Farmer's Union President Deon Theron told VOA his organization had advised the government that crops needed to be planted early because of a forecast el-Nino effect that would create an abnormal season.
"If you look at the current crop, a lot of it was planted late and we are having dry periods in between, which is going to have a huge effect on the crop," he said.
Zimbabwe needs 1.8 million tons of the staple corn per year. Theron says he would be very surprised if the country produces 500,000 tons.
Zimbabwe used to be an exporter of food, but has failed to produce enough to feed itself since 2000.
Meanwhile, the state-controlled daily newspaper The Herald
reports the government has adopted measures to ensure food security, including the 500,000 imported tons Minister Made said is needed.
also reported the government is carrying out a crop assessment with the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization. The result of that exercise is expected later this month.
The paper also says the government will speed up distribution of fertilizer to farmers in areas that have reported better rainfall, but Theron says all this should have been done during preparations for the season.
"Agriculture is about forward planning, every week that you are behind schedule, your production drops," said Theron.
Zimbabwe has suffered successive poor harvests since 2000, the year the country's sometimes-violent land-reform program was launched. While drought has played a significant part, critics of President Robert Mugabe also blame the land-reform exercise, which saw white farmers losing their farms ostensibly for the resettlement of landless blacks.
The critics charge the government failed to provide support for those who were serious about farming. Also they say, most of the land ended up in the hands of ranking members of Mr. Mugabe's Zanu-PF Party and government who are producing little.