The first independent assessment of Zimbabwe's summer's grain crop has emerged from the United Nations, indicating that recent claims by President Robert Mugabe that enough food has been grown are wrong.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO, says Zimbabwe grew even less food last season than the previous year, when the shortfall meant nearly half the population needed emergency food aid.

The FAO's assessment of Zimbabwe's crops, particularly maize, says at least one million tons will have to be imported before the next harvest begins early next year.

It says the harvest now being completed will be even lower than the 980,000 tons harvested at this time last year, which was the lowest in decades.

The FAO report says the decline in production was caused by under-usage of land seized from white commercial farmers during the past four years, increases in the prices of crop inputs such as seed and fertilizer, the impact of HIV/AIDS on the workforce, and late rains.

President Robert Mugabe claimed in a recent interview with Sky News that Zimbabwe had a bumper maize crop of 2.3 million tons and would not need to import food or ask donors to fund emergency food aid. That figure is more than double the FAO estimate.

President Mugabe said the land reform program, in which more than 11 million hectares were seized from white farm-owners, produced the best agriculture in Africa, and that the new black farmers are better-educated and more skilled than the previous white landowners.

The FAO and World Food Program crop teams were asked to leave Zimbabwe last month during their annual assessment of the harvest. But according to the team's report, members managed to complete their tour of most of the major crop-growing areas.

Reports in The Mirror, a usually pro-government newspaper, said the government has already begun importing grain, probably from Argentina and South Africa.

The report, quoting government officials, says the grain was paid for by an American company in exchange for most of Zimbabwe's small tobacco crop.