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Zimbabwe Faces 'Enormous' Challenge Financing Grain Purchases

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FEWSNET, said in a report this week that chronic food shortages in Zimbabwe could worsen unless the country is able to come up with foreign currency to finance imports of some 800,000 tonnes of grain.

FEWSNET said raising hard currency in the country's current dire economic situation will be “enormously challenging.” The organization said the impact of shortages has been exacerbated by the Grain Marketing Board state monopoly’s limited capacity to distribute throughout the country the amount of grain that is available.

Nonetheless, FEWSNET said the availability of maize meal, a Zimbabwean staple, had improved in September and early October, especially in southern Zimbabwe, where local grain production shortfalls must be met with purchases from other regions.

But, "The ever-increasing cost of food and cost of living are making market purchase to fill food gaps prohibitive," FEWSNET said. "Local maize prices are highly correlated to local food security: areas that were assessed to have the highest concentration of food"insecure people recorded the highest open market grain prices" last month.

The U.S.-based organization painted a gloomy picture for the next agriculture season, owing to severe shortages of key inputs such as fuel and fertilizer. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has appealed to donors for US$215 million for humanitarian aid for Zimbabwe, predicting a deeper crisis in 2007.

Economist James Jowa told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare's capacity to raise hard currency is extremely limited at this point.

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