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Zimbabwe's Urban Centers Face Food Shortage

Bread and the staple food, corn meal, are in short supply in Zimbabwe and there is no foreign currency at present to pay for imports. Many urban people have now stopped buying bread even when it is available because it has become too expensive.

Lovemore Maziri, is an artist who has sold his unframed tourist pictures all over Harare for two decades.

He said he now has to survive on the staple food corn meal twice a day, with vegetable he grows at his house, and occasionally a few small dried fish. He said his family hasn't eaten meat for four months. Even two years ago, he says, they ate meat two or three times a week. In his youth, before Zimbabwe became independent, Maziri says he ate meat every day.

He says he is hungry all day, every day.

He says he no longer buys bread because it is too expensive. The cost went up about 30 percent in the last two weeks.

It is just as well. Most bakeries are living on less than half their usual allocation of flour as wheat stocks have run out.

Over the last six years, Zimbabwe's wheat production has slumped to less than 25 percent of normal levels since seizure of most white-owned commercial farms.

The state's grain marketing board is the only legal grain trader, but this year it allowed millers to import wheat because of the poor crop.

A spokesman for the Millers Association of Zimbabwe, who asked not to be named, said Wednesday that although the government allowed millers to import 15,000 tons of wheat it is stuck in a warehouse in Zimbabwe as there is no foreign currency to pay for it.

He said wheat millers were operating at 20 percent of normal output. He said millers processing corn were operating at about 10 percent.

Most supermarkets in Harare had no stocks of corn meal Wednesday. This is the situation in other urban areas, including Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo.

People on the street said Wednesday they were buying corn meal on the black market, and paying up to double the controlled price, but that they had no option.

The grain harvest only begins next month but may be much later this year because planting began late in many areas.

No one is absolutely sure yet what the size of the crop will be except that it will fall far short of the nation's needs.