Zimbabwe must start importing grain before the end of the agricultural season because a prolonged drought has reduced projected food harvests.
Agriculture Minister Joseph Made says Zimbabwe must import 500,000 tons of corn or maize, as it is known locally, to ensure food security, pointing to the protracted dry spell that has left crops withered in much of the country.
Commercial Farmer's Union President Deon Theron told VOA his group had advised the government that crops should be planted early in the 2009-2010 season because the el Nino effect would lead to abnormal rains.
"If you look at the current crop, a lot of it was planted late and we are having dry periods in between, which is going to have a huge effect on the crop," he said.
Zimbabwe needs 1.8 million tons of the staple cereal annually. Theron says he would be very surprised if the country produces 500,000 tons.
Zimbabwe used to be an exporter of food, but has failed to produce enough to feed itself since 2000, when the country embarked on land reform which has driven out most of the former 4,000 white commercial farmers.
Meanwhile, the state-controlled daily newspaper The Herald reports the government has adopted measures to ensure food security, including the 500,000 imported tons Minister Made said is needed.
The Herald also reported the government is carrying out a crop assessment with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The result of that exercise is expected later this month.
The paper also says the government will speed up distribution of fertilizer to farmers in areas that have reported better rainfall, but Theron says all this should have been done during preparations for the season.
"Agriculture is about forward planning, every week that you are behind schedule, your production drops," said Theron.
While drought has played a role in Zimbabwe's food security problems, critics of President Robert Mugabe blame the land reform exercise, which saw white farmers losing their farms ostensibly for the resettlement of landless blacks.
Critics say the government failed to support legitimate new farmers, while the bulk of the land seized from white commercial farmers ended in the hands of top officials of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, who are producing little.