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Zimbabwe Food Crisis Deepens As Experts Predict Wheat Crop Failure

Zimbabwe's food security outlook deteriorated further on Monday as it emerged that the upcoming winter wheat harvest may be the worst since independence in 1980.

Indigenous Commercial Farmers Union President Wilson Nyabonda told the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper electric power shortages kept wheat farmers from irrigating their crops - this despite the government's announcement early in the growing season that Zimbabweans would face wider power cuts to give priority to wheat farmers.

Production was expected to be less than the 86,000 tonnes harvested last year, and far beneath the government's forecast of 375,000 tonnes. Wheat farmer Douglas Taylor-Freeme, former president of the Commercial Farmers Union, said that the harvest could plunge as low as 25,000 tonnes.

Some experts agree, noting that with harvester combines in short supply, a great deal of standing wheat could be destroyed by rain. The country needs 400,000 tonnes of wheat a year, but the most it has ever produced was 350,000 tonnes in 1998.

Elsewhere, Grain Marketing Board sources said the state monopoly is struggling to persuade farmers to sell it maize harvested earlier this year, despite a supplementary payment funded by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe of Z$1.2 million a tonne on top of the Z$3 million (US$20) a tonne the GMB is offering.

But sources said there are no takers as farmers are holding their maize or selling it to parallel market dealers for three times the price offered by the GMB.

Maize meal has become extremely difficult to find in shops in Zimbabwe's cities – some say they have have not taken delivery of the staple for weeks.

Despite the looming crisis, the government remains reluctant to issue a formal appeal for international aid.

Agronomist Roger Mpande told reporter Blessing Zulu that the root of the crisis is in the collapse of the country's agricultural business framework.

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