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As Zimbabwe Shops for Grain Imports, Domestic Crops Spoil In Fields

Recent rain in Zimbabwe has been bad news for farmers who have yet to deliver their winter wheat crops to the Grain Marketing Board, say farming experts, because the state monopoly is refusing to accept grain that has too high a moisture content.

That is only one aspect of the crisis in Zimbabwean agriculture. Experts say hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain are going to waste in fields for lack of fuel for combine harvesters to complete the long-overdue maize harvest or ongoing wheat harvest.

Harare has said it expects a maize harvest of some 1.3 million tonnes for the 2005-2006 crop season now ending, and 200,000 tonnes of winter wheat.

But GMB Acting Chief Executive Samuel Muvhuti said his agency has brought in just 400,000 tonnes of maize to date, and the winter wheat crop is just trickling in.

The World Food Program said last week that 1,4 million Zimbabweans were expected to need food assistence just in rural areas between now and early 2007.

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made has blamed the Finance Ministry for what he says is its delay in releasing funds to purchase wheat from farmers, slowing collection. Made has also criticized the GMB for rejecting wheat on grounds it is too moist - when the moisture content is too high the grain cannot be ground for flour to make bread.

Wheat harvesting has been slowest in Mashonaland Central’s Mazowe Valley and the Lowveld, both traditionally major wheat producing areas.

Harare has announced it will import 565,000 tonnes of maize from South Africa and Zambia. But South African grain traders said they will demand cash up front as Harare has a poor payment record. It will cost 600,000 rand or about US$80,000 to import the 480,0000 tonnes of maize Harare intends to source from South Africa.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe sought comment on the crisis from Renson Gasela, a former GMB general manager now agriculture secretary for the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Arthur Mutambara. He said the Agriculture Ministry has no plan to overcome the disarray in the farming sector.

For an economic perspective Blessing turned to consultant James Jowa, former chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, who said the root cause of the nation's food crisis was Harare’ s lack of forward planning.

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