Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe to import 1.8 mln tonnes of maize-paper

HARARE, June 30 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's government plans to import 1.8 million tonnes of maize after drought slashed domestic output, the official Herald newspaper reported on Thursday.

"Government has put in place measures to import 1.8 million tonnes of maize to cover-up the grain deficit arising from the current drought," the paper said, citing Agriculture Minister Joseph Made.

Made told parliament on Wednesday that the government was importing the staple grain as well as wheat to meet national grain requirements and also welcomed assistance offered without conditions attached, the paper said.

"If there is anyone who wishes to assist they are welcome," it quoted Made as saying in response to questions from opposition legislators.

Last month United Nations World Food Programme chief James Morris said Zimbabwe would receive "several hundred thousand tonnes" of food aid from the global body after Mugabe indicated during a meeting that he would welcome the help.

Mugabe's government has previously accused aid agencies of a political agenda and last year said the country would not require aid on the back of an anticipated bumper harvest of 2.4 million tonnes of maize, which fizzled out after a drought.

Morris said in early June Mugabe had indicated his government had issued tenders and made orders for 1.2 million tonnes of food and intended to purchase another 600,000 tonnes to restock Zimbabwe's grain reserves.

Mugabe denies that chronic food shortages that have plagued the southern African country for much of the last five years are in large part due to disruptions to agriculture linked to his seizure of white-owned commercial farms for landless blacks.

The shortages have exacerbated an economic crisis widely blamed on government mismanagement, which has lasted for six years leading to an acute fuel crunch as well as record inflation and unemployment.

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