Harare - Zimbabwe's northern neighbor Zambia says it has struck a deal to sell 300 000 tons of corn to ease food shortages in Zimbabwe, the region's former breadbasket.

The Zambian state Food Reserve Agency said in a statement made available Monday in Harare that the sale will reduce that country's food surplus by half.

A decade ago, Zimbabwe exported food to Zambia, a mining hub. The reverse in fortunes comes after Zimbabwe's often-violent seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms since 2000

that disrupted the agriculture-based economy and drove many white farmers into Zambia to develop underutilized land there.

In November, the United Nations said 1.5 million Zimbabweans would need food aid through 2012 and appealed for $258 million in donor funding to buy it.

The Zambian corn, worth about $50 million, is being sold through private grain dealers, the food agency said.

Zimbabwe needs about 2.2 million tons of corn, the staple food, a year. But according to official estimates, there is a deficit of some 800,000 tons because of depleted stocks and erratic rains.

The Food Reserve Agency in Zambia's capital, Lusaka, said current harvests are expected to leave a surplus of more than 1

million tons of corn that the country no longer has the capacity to store. It said it is tapping regional export markets.

Zambian corn sells for about $170 a ton. Imports into southern Africa in the past decade from as far afield as Canada and Argentina have gone for more than $300 a ton.

Farmers' leaders say Zambia, which once had the region's highest urban population and was dominated by mining in the central Copperbelt region, adopted an aggressive agricultural expansion program that has embraced white farmers from Zimbabwe. Since 2008

the country has implemented land tenure and investment guarantees and loans for production along with logistical incentives that saw improvements in the supply of specialized seeds, fertilizers, materials and farming equipment for small-scale and commercial farmers.

Since 2000, about 4,500 white farmers have been forced to leave their Zimbabwe properties because of a land redistribution program for blacks that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe said was intended to correct colonial-era imbalances in land ownership.

Prime properties were handed over to military and security chiefs and Mugabe party loyalists, many of whom have left them to lie idle. In years of economic meltdown, irrigation systems have collapsed and acute power and water outages and the absence of title deeds or collateral for loans have crippled remaining farming operations. - Sapa-AP