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Harare Withholds Request For Food Aid Pending UN Assessment

Although Zimbabwe's government and other observers are forecasting a significant shortfall in the harvest this year, Harare said it will not ask for food assistance from the United Nations until the assessment under way by two UN agencies is completed.

The online news agency Zimonline, Thursday quoted Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo saying Harare will wait until experts from the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization have finished their assessment, now in progress. The assessment is expected to be completed by mid May.

Zimbabwe is expected to harvest 850 000 tonnes of maize, leaving a deficit of about 1.2 million tonnes to be imported. Earlier this year, the government declared 2007 a drought year and acknowledged that agricultural inputs were in short supply.

Studio 7 could not reach Gumbo for comment as he was said to be visiting his constituency.

Opposition agriculture expert Renson Gasela of the Arthur Mutambara Movement for Democratic Change faction, told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that by the time the assessment is done it could be too late for Zimbabwe to formally ask for aid.

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