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Zimbabwe Faces Worst Harvest on Record


Even though weather conditions have been ideal for growing, crop forecasters say Zimbabwe is going to have its worst-ever harvest.

The rains came on time this summer, in November, and they have not stopped since. It rains every day, especially in areas where food crops are grown. Even in the dry Matabeleland provinces in southern Zimbabwe there has been plenty of rain.

The dams are full and rivers are flowing across the country. Despite this, agricultural analysts and crop forecasters say this will be the worst harvest season ever.

The Commercial Farmers Union is the only agricultural organization still producing technical data and timely statistics in Zimbabwe. Its crop forecasts have proved to be accurate over many years.

It predicts that this year the country will produce only about 700,000 tons of corn - Zimbabwe's staple crop - less than half the amount of corn that is needed to feed the nation. And the harvest might be even lower if rains persist and reduce nutrient levels in the soil.

If the experts' predictions are right, this will be the sixth year in a row of failed crops in Zimbabwe. At present, three million people, or one-quarter of Zimbabwe's population, depend for their nutrition on on U.N. food aid.

Zimbabwe once produced enough agricultural produce to earn sizable foreign income from exports. Today, it has not enough produce to feed its population and not enough foreign currency reserves to import food.

According to the Commercial Farmers Union, Zimbabwe will produce only 50 million kilograms of tobacco in 2006. Six years ago it produced nearly five times that amount. Tobacco export earning accounted for 40 percent of the total foreign exchanged earned.

Hendrik Olivier is director of the Commercial Farmers Union, which has lost most of its members since 2000, when President Robert Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms. Mr. Olivier says farmers don't have the basics, such as fertilizers or fuel, to produce more.

"In the main cropping areas, we have seen good rain, when it is necessary," said Hendrik Olivier. "When we speak to farmers they say they had very good rain on time. The same cannot be said about inputs [fertilizers]. In the main cropping areas we see shortage of inputs, and of late, the biggest shortage is nitrogen, and we see in some areas planting still taking place especially of maize, because of the lack of inputs."

Zimbabwe is so short of foreign currency it cannot afford to import the chemicals needed to produce fertilizers or fuel for farmers to operate their machinery.

Ninety percent of the millions of hectares taken from white farmers over the last six years now lies fallow. New farmers say they don't have the experience, technical support or financial muscle to succeed.