January 21, 2009 / 12:04 PM / 9 years ago

Zimbabwe farm output to continue sharp fall: union

<p>Zimbabwean Herbert Nyahanana digs out weeds in a maize field on the outskirts of the capital Harare, February 21, 2006. REUTERS/Howard Burditt</p>

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe faces another huge food deficit in 2009 due to continued falls in farm production, mounting political uncertainty and economic instability, a report by a farmers’ union said on Wednesday.

The southern African country is battling hyperinflation and has endured food shortages since 2000, when President Robert Mugabe’s government began seizing farms from whites to resettle landless blacks.

A power-sharing deal signed by Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai last September looks fragile due to bickering over control of key cabinet posts, dimming hopes the ruined economy will be rescued.

The Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU), which represents most of the few remaining white commercial farmers, said agricultural output would continue to fall sharply until the country’s political crisis was resolved.

“Investment in agriculture is long-term and its risk factor very high, therefore under the present unstable conditions prevailing in Zimbabwe at the moment, production in all sectors is expected to be extremely low this season,” the CFU said in a report.

The CFU added that the economic meltdown had also hit farm operations.

“The super-hyperinflation prevailing in the country and the unavailability of cash from the banks has also impacted negatively on any meaningful production this season,” the union said.

The last official inflation rate, for July last year, stood at 231 million percent.

Donor agencies say more than 5 million Zimbabweans, almost half the population, currently rely on food handouts and expect the number to rise following another poor agricultural season.

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) says its $140 million emergency food aid appeal for Zimbabwe has come up $65 million short.

The CFU said continued disturbances on farms, where some white farmers are still being forced off land or prosecuted for failing to do so, had also hit production.

Less than 500 white farmers remain active on their farms, down from over 6,000 before the land seizures began.

Mugabe’s government has said it would press on with the prosecution and eviction of white farmers still on land earmarked for acquisition, despite a ruling by a regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal stopping such action.

Critics say Mugabe’s land policies have ruined Zimbabwe’s once prosperous economy, but the veteran ruler says the seizures were meant to reverse colonial land imbalances.

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