Zimbabwe

Drought wipes out crops in southern Zimbabwe

Harare_(dpa) _ Drought has wiped out 95 per cent of maize crops in a province of southern Zimbabwe, reports said Monday.

Matabeleland South was now expected to harvest just 5,580 tons of maize, out of the province's required 115,565 tons, the official Herald newspaper said.

Matabeleland South needs to be declared a disaster province so that the country can mobilize a big relief programme for both human beings and livestock, the paper quoted a drought situation report as saying.

It said 226,893 school pupils were in need of supplementary food this year. It also said that livestock in the cattle-rearing province would require supplementary feeding from May, when grazing would no longer be adequate.

Last week Zimbabwe's Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo declared 2007 a drought year. He announced that crops in some areas were a complete write-off.

Even traditional greenbelt areas have been affected by the dry spell, he said.

While the government blames its perennial food shortages on drought, critics say a controversial land reform programme has also seriously affected production in the key agricultural sector.

Shadow agriculture minister in a faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said Monday that food shortages would coincide with presidential and parliamentary elections expected to take place in March next year.

By March next year the food shortage and starvation will be at its worst. That is when these sham elections will be held, the MDC's Renson Gasela said in a statement.

"I appeal to the donors who have saved the people from death over the past seven years to come forward and save the lives of many innocent people from certain death at the hands of this uncaring government," he said.

The MDC has in the past accused President Robert Mugabe's government of using food aid or the threat of withholding it from desperate rural households - to buy support ahead of elections. dpa rt wjh

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