April 13, 2012 / 8:49 AM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-Zimbabwe's 2012 maize crop f'cast cut to 1 mln T

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(Adds detail, background)

HARARE, April 13 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's maize harvest is expected to fall by 26 percent to 1 million tonnes this year after nearly half of the crop was written off because of a prolonged dry spell, an assessment from the agriculture minister showed on Friday.

The southern African country, once a regional bread basket, has struggled to feed itself since 2000 when President Robert Mugabe embarked on the seizure of white-owned commercial farms to resettle landless blacks.

Maize production in 2011 was 1.35 million tonnes.

Out of the 1,689,786 hectares of maize planted area, 45 percent was lost to a mid-season drought, the report said.

Zimbabwe's annual maize consumption is 1.8 million tonnes and the report said the country had built up 400,000 tonnes in maize reserves. Zimbabwe would have to import another 400,000 tonnes to make up for the deficit.

With an expected wheat output of only 75,000 tonnes this year, the country would also need to resort to imports to meet its annual requirement of 400,000 tonnes.

But Zimbabwe is facing a cash squeeze and the government may struggle to raise money to buy the staples.

In the 2012 national budget, finance minister Tendai Biti did not allocate money for grain imports, probably leaving private companies to pick up the bill.

Zimbabwe has over the last 10 years had to rely on donor groups to provide emergency food aid especially to vulnerable groups in the rural areas.

Last December, the United Nations said it would raise $268 million for aid efforts in Zimbabwe, with half the money to be used to buy food for more than 1.4 million people facing shortages.

Neighbouring South Africa produced more maize than it typically consumes this season but traders overextended their export commitments and so the country has also had to import the staple to compensate for the shortfall.

The southern African maize growing season coincides with the region's wet summer months, roughly from November to April. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe, editing by Ed Stoddard)

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