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Drought Hits Zimbabwe Wheat Production

Zimbabwe, along with other southern African countries, is facing a drought induced shortage of maize, the staple food of the region. The country is also facing a further slump in wheat production. But the drought is only one of the reasons for the drop in wheat production.

Unlike maize which is grown in the rainy season, in Zimbabwe wheat is an irrigated winter crop. But with the wheat planting period already under way, forecasts for this year's crop do not look good.

A spokesman for of an agricultural organization who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity said because of the drought some dams do not have enough water for irrigation. He added that the problem has been worsened by the shortage of seed and fertilizers.

As a result, he said, less than half of the land normally used to grow irrigated winter wheat is going to be planted this year.

An article in the state controlled newspaper The Sunday Mail says some farmers have yet to prepare their land for planting due to shortages of fuel shortage and tractors for plowing. The paper also blamed the government bank tasked with disbursing money to farmers to support agriculture.

Zimbabwe needs about 400,000 tons of wheat a year, but has never produced that much. The agricultural spokesperson said wheat production peaked in 1998 when the country produced 350,000 tons.

In 2003, less than 150,000 tons of wheat were produced. This resulted in severe bread shortages. The official also said when there is a shortage of maize, the demand for bread increases.

Zimbabwe, once known as the breadbasket of the southern African region, has in the past five years experienced food shortages mainly because of successive droughts. Last year, the government stopped donor agencies that were distributing food in the country from doing so, claiming it had a bumper maize harvest.

International aid agencies have also blamed the food crisis in Zimbabwe on President Robert Mugabe's sometimes violent land reform program launched in 2000. The exercise saw white farmers losing their farms ostensibly for the resettlement of landless blacks.

The president has admitted that some of his top officials took advantage of the program and helped themselves to multiple farms. He complained that some of them are not producing to capacity.

A lack of capital for agricultural equipment and materials on the part of black farmers has led to a drastic fall in production. But Mr. Mugabe has said Zimbabwe has the money to import maize and is not going to ask for food aid.