Gumbo climbs down over ‘mother of seasons’

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe's embattled government finally accepted this week that projections of a "mother of all agricultural seasons" was a mirage, with Agriculture minister Rugare Gumbo making a dramatic climb-down at the weekend.

Zimbabwe, once a regional breadbasket, may harvest even less maize than previously expected, worsening the outlook for a nation desperately short of food.

Preliminary reports from a new crop and food supply assessment indicate the harvest now underway could produce only 510,000 tonnes of maize, down from earlier forecasts of 1,8 million tonnes. Zimbabwe needs about two million tonnes of maize to feed its 11,9 million people.

This year’s crop is less than one third of what the country produced in an average year during the last decade, the report said.

In October, the government projected of a bumper harvest  – “the mother of all agricultural seasons”, which would boost food reserves, stalling Zimbabwe’s unprecedented economic meltdown.

“The season has not been as spectacular as we had expected. I would like to acknowledge the shortages of top-dressing fertilisers,” Gumbo admitted.

UN officials said they were organising a regional plan for dealing with the food shortage. “Our cereal balance analysis highlights the potential for a human catastrophe in Zimbabwe,” said a UN aid worker.  

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