Drought: will there be adequate transport facilities?


The government’s reluctance to accept that the country was facing a severe maize shortfall until it was too late has also cast doubt on whether it has put into place an adequate transport infrastructure to ferry the maize the country is now importing .

Although the government has assured the nation that it has already ordered nearly 600 000 tonnes which should now be at the ports -the poor handling of maize imported from South Africa and its poor distribution even in urban areas has raised doubts as to whether it will be able to cope with larger volumes of imports, and more importantly to distribute the maize or maize meal to the rural areas.

Poor planning -which seems to be the main problem in the current crisis, which could have been sorted out last year if the government had accepted predictions in July that the country would run out of maize- resurfaced when the government started importing, maize, from South Africa.

The initial transporter, the National Railways of Zimbabwe failed to cope with a mere 100 000 tonnes forcing the government to bring in road transporters.

The NRZ has shoved the blame on someone else but that is immaterial as with good planning the government should have foreseen any possible constraints in the rail system and should therefore have made contingent plans to avert them.

Now with road hauliers at each other’s throat over the awarding of the main tender to a single company, Cargo Carriers, a showdown among them just to prove that a single company is unable to cope cannot entirely be ruled out -although, of course, Cargo Carriers is allowed to sub-contract to other companies.

The other problem is that South Africa itself will be importing millions of tonnes of maize for itself. It has already indicated that its ports will not be able to cope.

While there are other ports in the region that could be used, this poses another major problem. The tender to move maize from Beira was awarded to the Zimbabwe Owner Driver Organisation (ZODO).

Though this satisfied some conditions that some members of the Transport Operators Association are clamouring for, that tenders should have been awarded to local operators, experts say with only 28 trucks ZODO does not have the capacity to move about 360 000 tonnes of maize that it is expected to.

Moreover these experts say the price ZODO asked for is too low to enable it to sub-contract to other haulage companies.

If this is true, this could pose a serious flaw in the supply of maize which is already erratic and threatens to erupt into violence as people spend days queuing for mealie meal.

With the Mozambican peace process still floundering the movement of maize through that country could be disrupted by Renamo both in an effort to settle old scores with Zimbabwe and also to get the much needed food as Mozambique itself is in a much worse situation than Zimbabwe.

The internal distribution itself has so far been chaotic. Conflicting statements by the Grain Marketing Board and the millers have made it very difficult to pinpoint the problem.

The GMB claims to be supplying the millers with 50 percent of their requirements implying that the millers are responsible for the present chaos.

While an element of misallocation by the millers cannot entirely be ruled out as they also have clients who need stockfeed, sources say the nation is not entirely being told the truth about the supplies.

These sources say while in normal times Zimbabweans consume 100 000 tonnes a month this year’s estimate has been pegged at 140 000 tonnes because it is an abnormal year.

However, although the GMB claimed to be supplying 50 percent of the millers’ requirements, these sources say they were only supplying 20 percent.

The government’s announcement that it was increasing the allocation by 20 per cent this month therefore only raised the allocation to 40 per cent instead of the 70 per cent the nation was led to believe.

What is even more disturbing is the fact that people in urban areas, who have the cash, cannot obtain supplies. This has put a heavy damper on how those in the rural areas will survive.

Normally, there should be no food shortages in rural areas at this time of the year, since most of the crop would be still in the field. As most peasant farmers rely on their own supplies they would normally have something in stock to last them, at least, until July.

This year things seem different. Some people are already reported to be surviving on wild fruit and river silt. One may argue that these are only those who did not harvest anything last year but it also means that the situation will become worse as we approach the winter season since those who had something will also have run out.

The situation could also be catastrophic since, even in good years, the government has failed to deliver food to the few rural people who needed it and this was blamed on transport problems.

Unlike in the previous years when those in urban areas were well catered for and could spare the time to speak out their peasant colleagues, with most of them chasing trucks with mealie meal half of the time, they will not have time to spare for their rural colleagues.

The plight of the peasant farmers is therefore likely to go unreported.

Although several organisations have offered to help distribute food internally and may provide free transport government bureaucracy could also come into play as there is no doubt that the present drought is being looked at by some as a money-spinner hence the squabble among hauliers.

Government leaders are known not to be averse to such opportunities since some of them are reported to be in the transport business.

Will they allow organisations that want to provide free transport to do so or will they opt for “private” hauliers to do so to ensure “efficient” -though money earning- distribution in which some will have a cut?


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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