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Zimbabwe Central Bank Chief Says Farmers Hoarding Grain

Zimbabwe’s food crisis has taken a new turn as officials accuse farmers of hoarding the staple maize grain with the intention of driving up prices and increasing profits.

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono is urging the government to use its powers to force farmers to give up the maize and maize seed he says they hold.

Dr. Gono told the parliamentary committee on agriculture this week that agricultural land is scandalously underutilized, especially by those who recently acquired farmland through the land reform program, many of whom are senior ruling party officials.

He said an RBZ survey found that the output per hectare of Zimbabwe’s commercial farmers is “pathetically low” compared with average yields in neighboring countries.

By all accounts – including some official statements – Zimbabwe’s stocks of maize and other grains are dangerously low. Experts say the government must import 1.2 million tonnes of grain this year to meet the basic needs of the population.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga who said the government backs Dr. Gono.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, meanwhile, says the central bank governor’s proposals could lead to an expansion of profiteering.

The MDC released a statement saying that it was not convinced that “Operation Bring Back Maize,” as Dr. Gono labeled it, would be carried out in a “transparent, sensitive and accountable manner.”

Carole Gombakomba spoke with Renson Gasela, a former MDC member of parliament for the Gweru Rural constituency who is currently operating a farm himself.

The Zimbabwe National Army, meanwhile, is urging junior officers to go on extended leave because the armed forces cannot afford to feed them, an army source says.

Correspondent Sydney Sithole for VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reports from Mutare that Zimbabwe's armed forces cannot provide its members with three meals a day.

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