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Central Bank Funds Wheat Imports As Harare Promises Long-Term Farm Leases

In a move to relieve a critical shortage of bread across the country, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has made US$10 million dollars available to import wheat.

Bread has become hard to find since the government ordered bakers last week to roll back prices and sell loaves at the official price of Z$200 dollars. Bakers have had to import their own flour and say the official price doesn’t let them recover costs.

Authorities have been blaming the bread shortages on millers, whom they accuse of importing wheat and hoarding it so as not to have to sell flour at a loss.

Independent agronomist Roger Mpande told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare's move to import wheat is long overdue because it has been apparent for some time that existing supplies are inadequate.

The Grain Marketing Board, which exercises the state monopoly on such transactions, said meanwhile that only 400,000 metric tonnes of maize had come in from the harvest recently ended, compared with a national annual requirement of 1.8 million tonnes.

GMB Acting Chief Executive Samuel Muvhuti told the government-controlled Chronicle newspaper that maize farmers have not been able to deliver maize to his agency due to an acute shortage of fuel. The government ordered the army to help collect maize from the countryside, but it has also been hampered by a lack of fuel.

Agricultural experts warn that if maize awaiting collection in the open stays there much longer it will rot when the rainy season begins in just a few weeks.

Tacitly acknowledging the farming crisis, Harare promised late this week to give both black and white commercial farmers 99-year leases. Such very long-term leases would encourage farmers to plant crops with some assurance they will harvest them.

A senior official in the Ministry of Land Reform and Resettlement said such leases will be given to farmers in the A-2 category of large holdings starting next month, while smallholders in the A-1 category will simply be issued farming permits.

For an expert view on the issuance of 99-year leases, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to executive director Sam Moyo of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, who has been a government consultant on land reform.

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