Sat Apr 2, 2011 12:53pm GMT DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania has invited bids for construction of emergency power plants to supply a total of 260 megawatts (MW) to ease its chronic energy shortages, its president said. Rainfall has an outsized influence on the agrarian economies of east Africa, which depend on hydro-dams for electricity generation. "A tender has already been announced to seek a contractor that will meet the required standards and come up with affordable costs," President Jakaya Kikwete said in a month-end national address televised late on Friday. He said the state-run Tanzania Electric Supply Company (TANESCO) expects to add the new power to the national grid by July. In mid-January, the government was forced to extend rolling blackouts after a prolonged drought led to a national shortfall of 230 MW. Kikwete said the ongoing power crisis in Tanzania could worsen if a long dry spell continued to deplete water levels at the country's largest hydroelectric dam. "The water levels at Mtera dam are currently just 88 centimetres above the minimum level," he said. Kikwete said he has directed officials at the country's strategic grain reserve to start selling maize to markets in urban centres whenever shortages of the country's staple food occur in order to tame rising inflation. The price of food, which carries the biggest weight in the basket of goods and services used to measure inflation, is a sensitive issue in Tanzania where the majority of the people live in poverty. Tanzania's year-on-year inflation rate rose for a fourth consecutive month in February to 7.5 percent on the back of higher food and fuel prices. The government will table a constitutional reform bill in parliament this month, to pave way for the creation of a new constitution, Kikwete added in the speech.