updated 5/1/2007 6:11:32 PM ET 2007-05-01T22:11:32

The government on Tuesday announced a nearly 700 percent increase in the price of corn, the mainstay of the Zimbabwean diet, amid worsening economic woes that already have many people eating one meal a day or less.

Boiled corn meal, known as sadza, is the foundation of many typical dishes, accompanied by savory vegetable or meat stew. It also is eaten as a porridge.

The price of an 11-pound bag of corn meal — which provides an average family of six one meal a day for about five days — now will sell for $1.45, up from 21 cents.

“Sadza is part of our way of life. Things are terrible all around, but it (the price increase) makes it worse,” said Bridget Mhkizwe of Harare.

She said her husband, a delivery man, earns about half the official poverty-level salary of $92 a month for a family of five.

“I don’t know how we’ll manage. That is all I can say,” Mhkizwe said.

Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo said the price hike will fund a nearly 600 percent increase in the government-controlled price that corn farmers receive, a measure to encourage food production, state radio reported.

The farmers will receive $220 a ton this season.

Overall, official inflation surged last month to 2,200 percent, the highest in the world.

The corn price hike came as police banned union-organized May Day celebrations in three main provincial towns, Zimbabwe’s main labor federation said. It also accused the state of intimidating labor day organizers in some districts.

The police ban applied to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, which is aligned with the opposition, and did not affect smaller, government-backed labor groups celebrating the international workers’ holiday.

Under security laws, political gatherings require police clearance.

Police were not immediately available for comment.

Labor activists have been targeted since the labor federation broke away from an alliance with President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party in 1992 and backed the formation of the main opposition party in 1999.

Last month, the federation called a two-day national strike to protest economic mismanagement, acute shortages of food and most basic goods and spiraling unemployment. The strike was poorly observed, with most workers saying they couldn’t afford to stop work. Unemployment in formal jobs is running at a record 80 percent.

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