HARARE, April 28 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's government will import 1.2 million tonnes of the staple maize grain in the coming months to make up for a shortfall in national output as the country faces food shortages, state media said on Thursday.
Aid agencies say around 4 million people, a third of the population, will need food aid this year after a poor harvest due to drought and a collapse in commercial farming following a land reform programme that gave white-owned farms to landless blacks.
But analysts say the government would require more than $250 million to import the maize at a time when it faces shortages of foreign exchange.
Food was a key campaign issue in the run-up to March 31 parliamentary polls. President Robert Mugabe publicly admitted for the first time during campaigning that Zimbabwe faced food shortages -- but vowed that no-one would starve.
"We have put in place a package where we are going to have over 1.2 million tonnes coming into the country over the next few months," Samuel Muvuti, chief executive of state-run Grain Marketing Board (GMB), told the official Herald newspaper.
Officials at the GMB, which has a monopoly to import, buy and sell grain, were not immediately available for comment. The Herald did not say where Zimbabwe intended to acquire the maize or how it would pay for it.
On Wednesday the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said Zimbabwe had virtually run out of maize and urged Mugabe's government to appeal for foreign aid.
Renson Gasela, MDC shadow agriculture minister, said the party estimated maize output from the just ended crop season at about 500,000 tonnes against domestic requirements of 1.8 million tonnes.
Muvuti denied MDC charges that the country had run out of food, saying grain imports had already started being delivered to areas ravaged by drought.
The opposition says the government has no foreign currency for food imports and that it will be hard to lure back aid agencies after Mugabe stopped donors from distributing food last year, arguing that the country could feed itself.
The United Nations World Food Programme this week said at least 80,000 tonnes of maize would be needed in six southern African countries including Zimbabwe between April and June after drought reduced output, but that only 27,000 tonnes was available.
Mugabe has repeatedly denied critics' charges that his land seizure policy has destroyed commercial agriculture, resulting in food shortages.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet