According to a new report, the Zimbabwe government says it does not need more food aid this year and that even if there is a shortfall in cereal production, it will be able to afford imports to make up any deficit. The claim is contained in the report published this week by the long-established regional Famine Early Warning System, FEWSNET, which closely monitors food production.

In its latest report, FEWSNET says the Zimbabwe government is estimating its maize harvest at between 1.2 and 1.7 million tons.

If the lower prediction figure is accurate, it will be only 500,000 tons short of the country's annual need.

FEWSNET also said the government is insisting that regardless of the size of the harvest, it will be able to finance any shortfall.

The network adds that the crop estimates need independent verification. But it says that Zimbabwe's only cereals trader, the government's Grain Marketing Board, cannot cope with the management and distribution of the nation's maize needs.

FEWSNET's report warns that inflation running at more than 600 percent means that a majority of Zimbabweans are unable to eat properly and that donated food kept more than four million people alive in the past year.

For the first time since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe needed massive food aid for more than two years. It was one of the largest emergency relief operations in the region in more than a decade.

The United Nations says the disaster was caused by drought and massive disruptions of commercial agriculture after the Zimbabwe government seized 90 percent of productive white-owned land for resettlement.

Most of the food distribution was handled by the United Nations World Food Program. WFP's Zimbabwe director, Kevin Farrell, said Friday the United Nations will do its own calculating of the food production harvest at the end of the month and expects to have its statistics ready in May.

Mr. Farrell also said that if the Zimbabwe government's predictions were wrong, and if it asked for emergency assistance, the WFP would be ready to respond with small quantities later in the year.