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Parliamentary Committee to Investigate Zimbabwe 'Bumper Harvest' Claims - 2004-06-09

The Agriculture Committee in the Zimbabwean Parliament is to look at food stocks in the country in a bid to verify or disprove the government's claims that the country will harvest enough grain this year and won't need any help in feeding the population.

The committee, made up of members of the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, will among other things look at the quantities of seed and fertilizer sold at the beginning of the growing season last year, weather conditions and the physical stocks held by the government Grain Marketing Board.

The investigation is the result of a motion introduced in parliament by opposition lawmaker Renson Gasela, who is a member of the Agriculture Committee.

"We will obviously go out in the field, in the depots to see physically whether grain is coming in and check on the stock sheets of GMB to see whether the quantities they say have been reporting are actually being received, and what they are actually holding in stock at the moment," he said.

The parliament approved the investigation on a day that the opposition party had a majority of members in the house.

For the past three years, millions of Zimbabweans have relied on food aid from international donors because of successive droughts and land reform that put most of the country's commercial farms out of production.

This year, the government announced that it will not need food aid because enough grain is going to be harvested.

United Nations relief agency teams who were in the country to assess this year's harvest were forced to withdraw after the government recalled its officials who were in the field with them. But the U.N. officials said they had finished most of their work, and they told VOA last week that Zimbabwe's current harvest will be lower than last year's, which was the worst in a decade. The U.N. investigators estimated Zimbabwe will need more than a million tons of grain donated this year.

The Grain Marketing Board has since admitted that it is now importing maize, which Mr. Gasela says raises questions about whether Zimbabwe is going to have a record harvest, as the government claims. The opposition party is accusing the government of fudging the figures for political reasons.

"The government is fudging the figures because they want to prove that land reform has been successful when it has been quite a disaster," said Renson Gasela. "Secondly and most importantly is that there is an election. During the past three years, government lost control completely as far as the feeding of the people is concerned. NGOs feed people impartially. Whoever needs food is the person who is fed. Under the circumstances of an election if government is not in control of food, they will lose."

Mr. Gasela is charging that the government is trying to end food distribution in Zimbabwe by impartial non-governmental organizations, so that the ruling party can use food as a weapon during next year's parliamentary election campaign.

Mr. Gasela says the results of his committee's investigation should be ready around September.