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Zimbabwe's Biggest Bread Company Close To Running Out Of Flour

Zimbabwe's largest baking concern, Lobels Bread, is within two days of running out of flour, the government-controlled Herald newspaper reported on Wednesday, raising the specter of an even more severe shortage of that staple among others.

The Herald reported that the firm had only a two-day supply of flour on hand and that was putting thousands of workers on forced leave. It quoted the company's operations manager, Lemmy Chikomo, as saying that the company has used up its flour reserves and cut back production to 40,000 loaves a day from 200,000 three months ago.

Reached by VOA, Chikomo confirmed the Herald report but would not elaborate except for to say that ‘’things are not well’’ at the company.

Wheat and flour have long been in short supply in Zimbabwe but the situation was exacerbated by price controls imposed in July. The official price for a loaf of bread is Z$30,000 (US$0.12) but bakers say they must charge $73,000 to remain viable.

General Secretary Leonard Kuzodishaya of the Federation for Food Workers union told Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that if the bread maker closed its doors this would be catastrophic for the country as well as the workers.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government announced it is donating C$3.5 million (US$3.3 million) in food aid to Zimbabwe. A World Food Program official accepting the aid cited progress in registering potential beneficiaries now experiencing deep distress.

WFP Country Representative Kevin Farrell said his organization would provide food to some 1.1 million Zimbabweans by the end of this year. It has received $70 million from donors, but remains US$118 million short of what it needs to fund its projected food assistance to some 4.1 million people by the end of the first quarter of 2008.

Canadian Ambassador Roxanne Dube said the funds would go to purchase 6,600 metric tonnes of maize from sources in the Southern African region.

Correspondent Derek Moyo reported from Harare.

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