Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe has issued a decree to seize hundreds of millions of dollars worth of farm equipment belonging to displaced commercial farmers. The presidential decree has been criticized by farmers and their organizations.

The decree by President Mugabe, which was published Monday, cannot be challenged through the courts for six months. The group "Justice for Agriculture" says the decree is "scandalous" and called it "legalized theft."

The decree, as of Tuesday, prevents any former farmer from selling all or part of any piece of agricultural equipment. Any contravention of the decree carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. The value of the equipment will be decided by government appointed appraisers.

The decree took effect immediately, but cannot be challenged until it is adopted by parliament in six months. Confiscation of the equipment will begin immediately, according to the state controlled press, which closely reflects government thinking.

A former white farmer in Harare, who was evicted from his land three years ago, said Wednesday that he has slowly been selling off his tractors and irrigation equipment to make a living.

About 90 percent, or more than three-thousand, former commercial farmers --most of them white -- have had their land and homes confiscated over the past three years. Only about 10 percent have received any compensation for the infrastructure, such as homes, irrigation systems, barns and fencing, left on their farms.

Property appraisers say the compensation received by the few hundred farmers who decided to leave Zimbabwe amounts to less that five percent of replacement value. There was no compensation for land.

But most farmers have refused to accept offers of compensation for their farming infrastructure, because they say it is too far below market value.

Lawyers in Harare who have been compiling loss statistics for former commercial farmers, say the replacement value of the agricultural machinery subject to the seizure decree adds up to hundreds of millions of U-S dollars.

As a result of President Mugabe's expropriation policy, only about 10 percent of Zimbabwe's arable land is being cultivated this year, and the United Nations says large amounts of food will have to imported to feed as many as five million people.