A Zimbabwe parliamentary committee has disputed government claims of a bumper corn harvest this year and says the country may still need food aid.

The agricultural committee of the Zimbabwe parliament says the country is likely to run out of stocks of the staple corn before the 2005 harvest. In a report presented to parliament Wednesday the committee said this would plunge the country into a serious crisis that would have an adverse impact on the national economy and food security.

The committee was asked to investigate government claims that there were enough food stocks to meet the country's needs until next year's harvest. The government forecast a harvest of 2.4 million tons but the report says stocks of grain and imports still to be delivered amount to less than a quarter of that.

The committee, made up of members of the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, says it experienced difficulty in getting information from the government during its investigation.

Renson Gasela, the opposition spokesperson for agriculture, says the government tried to stop the report from being debated in parliament. He described the government's reaction to the report as dismissive.

"A rational government would start doing something about the shortage of food in the country but this is intended, it's not an accident, it is intended that we must run out so that the government is going to be the only one with food and then they will manipulate it for the elections," said Renson Gasela.

Parliamentary elections are slated for March 2005 and the government has told all aid agencies who distributed food to millions of Zimbabweans since 2000 that they are no longer needed.

Aid agencies however dispute the government's claim. In a recent report the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) says an earlier estimate, which put the number of people in need of food aid at over two million, has to be revised upwards. The report also says even if food is available for sale, the high prices put it beyond the reach of many.

Zimbabwe, once known as the breadbasket of the region, has suffered losses in agricultural production due to successive droughts. Donor agencies also blame the reduction on the country's land reform program which saw white commercial farmers losing their land for the resettlement of landless blacks. President Mugabe has admitted the exercise was flawed as members of his party helped themselves to most of the land with some now owning more than one farm.