Zimbabwe's food production and distribution system, in crisis for more than two years, is set to ease this harvest season following handouts of seed and fertilizer. Small farmers, who have been encouraged to grow cereal crops other than corn, are expected to have record harvests.

International donations, good rains, and the skills and determination of small-scale communal farmers have combined to provide good news out of Zimbabwe.

The U.S.-funded Famine Early Warning System, or Fewsnet, said in its latest report that small farmers have grown more non-traditional cereals than in previous years, and are going to harvest good yields.

This, the group says, will ease Zimbabwe's food crisis in some crops, although the shortfall in corn, the preferred staple food, will remain unchanged. Fewsnet says the planting area for sorghum has more than doubled from last year, and is 70 percent up from the 1990s average of 146,000 hectares. The planting of non-traditional millet is also up.

A United Nations office in Zimbabwe said much of the seed and fertilizer for these crops was given to small farmers by various donors in order to rebuild food security and encourage production of crops that do better in many drier areas than corn. U.N. crop experts say recent rains have improved the yield prospects considerably.

The U.N. World Food Program has fed up to 5.5 million Zimbabweans, or nearly half the population, since the crisis in agricultural production began four years ago.

While commercial agriculture shows little sign of improvement, tens of thousands of small farmers are going to have a much better season, and donors say they hope the need for emergency food assistance will be dramatically reduced during 2004.