The United Nations says Zimbabwe will need emergency food aid for four million people before the harvest that begins in March of next year.  Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA that statistics provided by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program show that Zimbabwe grew less food last summer than at any time previously.

The FAO, allowed back into Zimbabwe for crop assessment for the first time in four years, painted a grim picture of food security for the next year.

It said Zimbabwe in the coming months will need to import more 350,000 tons of corn, its staple food.  The FAO says 2 million people will need food aid by July, less than a month away.  By next March, the FAO says, a third of the country's population, 4 million people, will be needing food aid to stay alive. 

The FAO said "the long-term decline in the large-scale commercial sector has been dramatic, mainly due to land reform activities."  It says food production dropped by more than 40 percent in the last year.

In the years before the land-reform program introduced by the government of Robert Mugabe, agriculture played a major role in Zimbabwe's economy, and white commercial farmers provided the backbone of the sector.  Small scale and communal farmers were dependent on the infrastrucure built up around commercial agriculture. The communal farmers used to produce about 60 percent of the country's corn.

In 2006, the FAO said, Zimbabwe produced slightly more than a third of what it regularly produced before President Mugabe began to expropriate white owned farms in 2000.

According to FAO, many of the new farmers, who had been give prime land belonging to white farmers, could not utilize it because of a host of problems connected with the ever-contracting economy.

Zimbabwe says it has bartered sugar for corn with Malawi, but little has arrived so far.

To add to Zimbabwe's woes, the power authority this week hiked prices for electricity by 50 percent at a time of the worst outages since the economic crisis began in 2000.

Consumers, especially those in Harare, are in the fourth day of major outages with no power for a minimum of 14 hours in a 24-hour period.

Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its power needs from the region, but the central bank is short of hard currency to settle its bills.

The crisis, economists say, is hyperinflation, which is at nearly 4000 percent, according to government statisticians.  But private sector economists say inflation is more than double that figure.

Statistics from the street money changers indicate that the real value of the Zimbabwe dollar is declining 30 percent a week, its fastest decline since the crisis began in 2000.