Through the Looking Glass
International organisations just amaze me - especially those involved
the United Nations. Today I read a food security assessment that claims
blandly that the cereal deficit in Zimbabwe is 22 per cent for the
season. That is from the 1st April 2006 to the 31st March 2007. Not
or 'estimated', just 22 per cent. Now where on earth could they be
the statistics that the figure may be based on?
By my calculations the cereal deficit is much larger than this. Can it
that they are using the figures fabricated by the Minister of
and destined to be used in the Politburo of the ruling Party? If so,
are living in a fantasy world no different than that occupied by Alice
If we start with the maize crop - we need 1,2 million tonnes of maize a
for human consumption. 600 000 tonnes for livestock and 120 000 tonnes
industry - starch and breakfast cereals and edible snacks. That is 1,9
million tonnes. We have grown possibly 800 000 tonnes and this leaves a
deficit of 1,1 million tonnes - slightly higher than the 1 million
imported last year to cover food shortages.
In respect to the winter wheat crop - the only other significant cereal
consumed in Zimbabwe, the crop planted is about 23 000 hectares and
are expected to be well down on previous years - so I would not expect
than about 50 000 tonnes of wheat. We can ignore the barley crop as
90 per cent for beer, the other cereals such as sorghums and millets
reach 100 000 tonnes at best.
Wheat usage has declined with the fall in living standards and most of
sorghum will go into traditional beer manufacture in both the formal
informal sectors. Even so I would estimate we will require at least 350
tonnes of wheat and 160 000 tonnes of small grains. Leaving a deficit
these other cereals of 360 000 tonnes. This combined with the maize
is 1,36 million tonnes of cereals as against total estimated demand of
million tonnes or 45 per cent of demand. The total cost of these
would be US$360 million.
The issue on the table today is what sort of cropping outlook exists
next season that starts in a few weeks time. Maize plantings any time
the 1st October through to the 15th November before yield potentials
falling off. Cotton more or less the same - perhaps a bit later for the
off point, oilseed crops - mainly Soybeans also a bit later.
From my perspective the outlook is pretty grim. The tobacco crop is
set - cannot be changed significantly now and looks like 20 000 tonnes
be a bit higher if the weather is favorable. The preparations for
large-scale maize and cotton plantings are minimal - seed is short and
fertilizers are difficult to find and very expensive in relation to
prices. Oilseed contracting by firms is below last year despite
efforts and the dislocation of the remaining commercial farmers is
the potential here. By my estimate we can expect no improvement in crop
output this coming season - in fact it is more likely to be down as the
long-range weather forecasts are negative.
The situation in the mining industry is no better - in fact after
mining output in a very negative operating environment, mining output
falling. Gold production and sales via official markets is down to a
of 'normal' output and all other sectors are also reporting serious
difficulties. Power outages and low official exchange rates and tight
foreign exchange controls within a highly inflationary environment is
life simply impossible for mining companies. Couple that to threats of
nationalization and the fear by investors that their investment may be
jeopardy anyway, gives rise to many situations where shareholders will
longer bail out failing Zimbabwean mines.
In the past week the parallel market exchange rates have been moving so
that dealers and businessmen have been unable to keep track of things.
heard of one deal done for a big company at Z$1 100 to US$1. That would
represent 50 per cent devaluation in a week or so. Actual rates vary
different sorts of foreign exchange - the highest rates for so called
funds' (meaning the most expensive) and funds from exporters and others
where rates are lower. Never the less the markets were devaluing the
Zimbabwe dollar by about 10 per cent per day last week with no sign of
bottom. Fuel prices rose sharply as a result to about Z$900 a litre -
many cases Z$1 000 a litre. Bus travel costs rose 1 third in the week.
So there is no relief in sight for the ordinary consumer - prices are
faster that their incomes and money has very little value. Only those
hard income earnings are able to survive. Another twelve months of this
I do not know where we will be. One thing is sure - if this carries on
much longer, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans will be forced to
for greener pastures. Most will go to South Africa.
I picked up a Prison Warden today and gave him a lift to town - he said
was earning Z$29 000 before tax - probably a take home salary of US$40
month. He could work as a farm laborer in South Africa for three times
that - when he learned who I was he asked me if I could help him leave
country - I told him he must stay and help us change the country. He
felt that was never going to happen until Mr. Mugabe goes or dies.
As for Mr. Mugabe - he was riding around the world in a Boeing 767
commandeered from our State airline - first speaking at the NAM summit
Cuba and then at the UN General Assembly. In both places he defended
role in the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and claimed it was due
British and American sanctions. I worked under mandatory UN sanctions
years and know what a real sanctions regime entails - what he was
about are the travel restrictions imposed on him and his cronies by the
and the USA and Australia - some personal discomfort when you like to
your shirts at Harrods, but hardly sanctions.
Bulawayo, 24th September 2006.