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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 11:38 GMT
Grain shortages bite in Zimbabwe
Sign warning intruders off a farm claimed by so-called 'war veterans'
Off limits: Farm takeovers have slashed grain output
Zimbabwe's grain shortages are approaching critical levels despite government attempts to import from neighbouring countries, the state broadcaster has reported.

Mealie meal - the maize-derived staple in southern Africa - has been hard to come by for as much as two weeks, sources in Zimbabwe say.


The government have pretty much mismanaged the tendering process

Harare-based economist
The wholesale land seizures of white-owned farms over the past few years has slashed commercial maize production, while the shifting of black workers off those farms has left families going hungry.

State media are reporting that the first 2,000 tonnes of a 150,000 tonne maize tender are due to arrive from South Africa on Wednesday, to replenish reserves which the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation said were at "critical" levels.

But the rest of the tender has yet to be made public.

Nowhere to turn

According to local experts, the only country in southern Africa with a grain surplus - and a narrow one at that - is South Africa.

"The [Zimbabwean] government have pretty much mismanaged the tendering process," one Harare-based economist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told BBC News Online.


For months they denied there was a need to import, and by the time the government changed its tune most of it was allocated

Harare-based economist

"There's very little on the way. For months they denied there was a need to import, and by the time the government changed its tune most of it was allocated.

"There's not much more than a week or two's supply left."

Even if the government can source more supplies, there is little foreign currency to buy it and too little transport and fuel to distribute it to the areas it is most needed, he said.

Making up the shortfall

The government now says it needs about 600,000 tonnes to make up for domestic output which fell to 1.48 million tonnes in 2000-01, from 2.04 million tonnes the previous season.

The UN's World Food Programme is appealing for $60m to help feed nearly 600,000 people in the countryside officially at risk of starvation.

And, with unemployment at 60%, inflation at 112% and three in four Zimbabweans living in poverty, the situation is thought unlikely to improve in the near future.

According to the state-owned Daily Herald newspaper, the government has seized 36,000 tonnes of maize from commercial farms who were refusing to hand it over to the Grain Marketing Board.

The GMB is now Zimbabwe's monopoly supplier.

More than 6,000 tonnes was seized from a German-owned farm, the paper said, despite efforts from German embassy staff to stop the process.

State-controlled media had accused the farm of hiding the maize, but its owners insist that they never intended to withhold the maize, and declared the stock formally on the relevant forms to the GMB.

The farm says it planned to mill the grain, but could not do so because the Zimbabwean Electricity Supply Authority failed to install the necessary transformer.

Sources in Zimbabwe said the maize being impounded was yellow maize mostly destined for animal feed, and rarely used for human consumption.


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14 Jan 02 | Africa
18 Dec 01 | Africa
26 Oct 01 | Business
10 Oct 01 | Business
20 Jul 01 | Business
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