Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cathy Buckle's Letter from Zimbabwe!

Million Dollar Loaf?
Saturday 25th March 2006.

Dear Family and Friends,

Almost every night now the electricity goes off for at least two hours and that's if we are lucky. In the last week the daily power cuts have ranged from 1 to 6 hours at a time and they almost always coincide with the main evening TV news bulletin. In these circumstances it is very hard to keep track of what is happening in the country - both news and propaganda. Frankly most people would rather not know anymore as it's all just too shameful. On the one evening when both electricity and news were on at the same time this week, I watched a group of agricultural experts presenting the facts and figures about the imminent winter wheat crop. It made me feel very afraid for Zimbabwe. According to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Zimbabwe is planning to plant one hundred and ten thousand hectares of wheat this winter. If everything was as it should be, this hectarage would yield four hundred thousand tonnes of wheat - this, coincidentally, is almost exactly how much wheat the country needs for a year. According to the agricultural experts though, this 110 000 hectares is unrealistic in the extreme and three main farming unions said that at best they would only be able to plant 45 000 hectares this winter. The reasons were glaringly obvious. A shortage of tractors for ploughing was one reason, no fuel was another and then there were the nitty gritty's like money, pesticides, fertilizer and irrigation. A pesticide expert said there are currently only enough chemicals in stock to treat thirty thousand hectares of wheat - just over a quarter of the government planned crop. Referring to crippling controlled prices imposed by the state, the fertilizer representative said that unless government allowed them to charge viable prices they would go out of business. The expert didn't give figures but said there was currently "hardly any fertilizer in the country" and that 72 000 tonnes would be needed for the wheat crop. The final "challenge" to the winter wheat crop was apparently going to be ZESA . (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority) The experts pointed out that wheat is dependant on irrigation and said that any periods of "outage would derail the crop." Outages, in ordinary English, are power cuts and the acronym ZESA, it is now joked, stands for Zimbabwe Electricity Sometimes Available. In March 2005 a loaf of bread was four thousand eight hundred dollars. In March 2006 that same loaf is sixty six thousand dollars. Unless something dramatic happens in the next few weeks and assuming prices continue to rise at their present rate, a loaf of bread in March 2007 will be nine hundred and eight thousand dollars. Imagine, almost a million dollars for a loaf, what shame upon Zimbabwe. It is impossible to believe that just six years ago we were called the "Breadbasket of Africa".

Until next week,
love cathy.

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