Zimbabwe can feed itself again, Mugabe claims

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HARARE – Zimbabwe produced enough food to feed its people for the first time since adopting a controversial policy to strip land from white farmers, President Robert Mugabe told parliament on Tuesday.

From the year 2000, hundreds of white farmers were evicted from their farms, often violently, and land was handed to allies of the ruling ZANU-PF party and in many cases became neglected and unproductive. Zimbabwe had previously been known as the “breadbasket” of Africa.

“The country has this year succeeded in regaining its food self-sufficiency status on the back of the good rainy season and the introduction of command agriculture,” Mugabe said as he opened parliament.

“Government is now working to consolidate agriculture through, among other things, investing more resources in water harvesting and irrigation development.”

A bumper harvest of maize helped Zimbabwe regain its food independence, he added.

Mugabe has previously acknowledged that handing vast tracts of land to inexperienced black owners was a mistake.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers warned just last week that the acute shortage of foreign currency could cause severe shortages of essential staples.

But on Tuesday Mugabe said he was hopeful that the rejuvenated agricultural sector would lift the nation’s moribund economy which has been plagued by a dire shortage of hard currency and soaring unemployment.

Zimbabwe’s legislators are starting their final session before presidential and parliamentary elections set for next year.

Mugabe who turns 94 next year has already been named as the presidential candidate for his ZANU-PF party.

Contrary to his claim, Zimbabwe’s government will import 1,2-million tons of maize in the coming months to make up for a shortfall in national output as the country faces food shortages, state media said on Thursday.

Aid agencies say around four million people, a third of the population, will need food aid this year after a poor harvest due to drought and a collapse in commercial farming after a land reform programme that gave white-owned farms to landless blacks.

But analysts say the government would require more than $250-million to import the maize at a time when it faces shortages of foreign exchange.

Food was a key campaign issue in the run-up to March 31 parliamentary polls. President Robert Mugabe publicly admitted for the first time during campaigning that Zimbabwe faced food shortages – but vowed that no-one would starve.

“We have put in place a package where we are going to have over 1,2 million tons coming into the country over the next few months,” Samuel Muvuti, chief executive of state-run Grain Marketing Board (GMB), told the official Herald newspaper.

Officials at the GMB, which has a monopoly to import, buy and sell grain, were not immediately available for comment. The Herald did not say where Zimbabwe intended to acquire the maize or how it would pay for it.

On Wednesday the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said Zimbabwe had virtually run out of maize and urged Mugabe’s government to appeal for foreign aid.

Renson Gasela, MDC shadow agriculture minister, said the party estimated maize output from the just ended crop season at about 500 000 tons against domestic requirements of 1,8-million tons.

Muvuti denied MDC charges that the country had run out of food, saying grain imports had already started being delivered to areas ravaged by drought.

The opposition says the government has no foreign currency for food imports and that it will be hard to lure back aid agencies after Mugabe stopped donors from distributing food last year, arguing that the country could feed itself.

The United Nations World Food Programme this week said at least 80 000 tons of maize would be needed in six southern African countries including Zimbabwe between April and June after drought reduced output, but that only 27 000 tons was available.

Mugabe has repeatedly denied critics’ charges that his land seizure policy has destroyed commercial agriculture, resulting in food shortages. – AFP