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Zimbabwe Farmers Pessimistic as Planting Season Opens

Zimbabwe’s agricultural community is concerned shortages of seed, fertilizer and fuel pose a serious threat to the planting season now at hand, while aid organizations are worried that Harare is not responding fast enough to a looming food crisis.

The planting season for tobacco – traditionally a key cash crop for Zimbabwe – has just started, while those for maize and other staple crops begin next month.

But agricultural experts say that with critical inputs in short supply and in some areas unavailable, there is no guarantee that food production in 2005-2006 will meet the country’s needs and could be even more disappointing than last year's yields.

This week farming organizations, seed growers and fertilizer manufacturers met with the parliament’s committee on agriculture. One member of the committee told VOA that the main concern for all parties a critical shortage of foreign exchange, without which the sector cannot secure essential materials to get its crops in the ground.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked Dzarira Kwenda, executive director of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union for his assessment of the coming agricultural season under the current difficult circumstances.

Humanitarian agencies and organizations, meanwhile, say the government must take urgent action to fend off a looming food security crisis.

The World Food Program said in July that it might need to provide food to about 4 million people in Zimbabwe next year, while the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee estimates that nearly 3 million people or 36% of the country’s rural population will need outside food aid.

The government has announced its intention to import 1.2 million metric tons of maize, Zimbabwe’s staple food. But deputy director Nyika Musiyazviriyo of Christian Care, the country’s main local aid provider, says the population’s need is already urgent.

On a brighter note, Mr. Musiyazviriyo told Studio 7 reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyele that 37 tonnes of maize and other food donated by the South African Council of Churches is finally on its way to Zimbabwe after being held up for a month by red tape imposed by Harare officials, including the testing of maize for genetic modification.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...