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Food Deficit Again Looms in Zimbabwe as Drought Withers Maize Harvest Hopes

Zimbabwean farmers planted at least 1 million hectares of the national staple maize this year compared with 900,000 hectares last year, but hopes for a bumper harvest are fading as a dry spell stretches out

The lack of rainfall in most parts of the country could jeopardize the 2010 maize harvest, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made has warned.

The minister told state media this week that the dry spell and severe shortages of inputs, especially fertilizer, point to a less than bumper maize crop.

"It's not looking rosy," Made said.

Farmers in the country have planted at least 1 million hectares of the national staple maize compared with 900,000 hectares last year. Many hoped for a bountiful harvest based on heavy rains earlier in the season.

The Harare unity government last year forecast a return to food self-sufficiency based on economic and political reforms after a decade of crisis. Many have blamed chronic food shortages on the impact of the seizures of white-owned commercial farms since 2000 in the name of land reform.

Made told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that his ministry is working with agricultural sector partners and will soon issue more detailed estimates of the coming harvest in its first crop assessment for the current season.

The maize harvest will be in full swing in about two months.

But Commercial Farmers Union Vice President Theron Deon said insufficient rainfall has little to do with the looming massive grain shortage.

He said the power-sharing government in Harare has not stabilised the agricultural sector to make sure farmers produce enough food.