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Zimbabwe/Food - 2002-03-22

While a funeral service was in progress in Harare for white farmer Terry Ford, a dairy farmer in southern Zimbabwe was preparing to leave his farm for good.

Mr. Ford was murdered outside his homestead this week. Police have arrested several youths in connection with his death, but the killing has unnerved many of Mr. Ford's colleagues.

One of them is Ben Kirstein who is packing up his belongings. He and his son have a dairy farm that produces nearly two-thousand liters of milk each day. But they have decided to quit their home and modern farm.

They say they can no longer take the strain after two years of harassment by militant supporters of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. They say their farm workers have been chased away and many of their cattle killed. And after Mr. Ford's murder, they say they fear for their lives.

On the farm, the remaining milk cows are being sold. The dairy herd is penned in a small bare paddock. On the other side of the road is a large field of grass. But Mr. Mugabe's supporters say the field now belongs to them, and Mr. Kirstein says the militants threatened to kill him if he grazes his cattle on their land.

There is a shortage of fresh milk in Zimbabwe and it is often rationed, even in the major cities. The staple food, maize meal, is not available. Neither is cooking oil. And sugar supplies are erratic.

Agriculture Minister Joe Made says Zimbabwe will import one-and-a-half-million tons of maize from South Africa, Kenya, and South America. But the country also faces a cash shortage, and he did not say where it will find the money to pay for maize nor when it will arrive.

Commercial farmers were not able to grow their usual maize crops for the past two seasons because of the invasions of their land. Now they say they will not be growing wheat, because the government has seized their land. Their legal advisors say any crops they grow will therefore belong to the government.

Until two years ago, Zimbabwe was self sufficient in basic foods.

Now, the World Food Program is distributing food in several parts of rural Zimbabwe. And, the Commercial Farmers Union says that within about eight weeks, there will be a shortage of protein because maize-based stock feeds have almost run out.