Adjusting to Change

The only real constant in world history is change, in all its different forms. Anyone who thinks otherwise will soon be overwhelmed by the changes taking place around them.

I have been watching the dialogue taking place around the globe on the subject of climate change and global warming. I think that both are a reality and in many ways the epicenter of this global phenomenon is southern Africa. Experts I have been talking to, all say that this part of the world is going to be the most affected by the changes that are taking place.

Last year I watched as time and time again the weather circled around Zimbabwe leaving us dry and thirsty. This year, that has been multiplied several times. The El Nino in the Pacific Ocean is the worst in many years and dry, very hot conditions have dominated over the whole region. Last week, in the middle of our wet season, there was not a cloud from Lusaka to Cape Town. In Harare we are sitting on 150 to 160 mls of rain so far, while in Bulawayo we are sitting on less than 10 mls of rain since October the 15th.

Gweru City Council has less than 4 months water left in its supply dams. Bulawayo will commence rationing at 60 per cent of full demand this month and the major Cities of South Africa will all be subject to water restrictions for the next year. The South African maize crop – the basic staple food, is estimated at barely 3 million tonnes, the Zimbabwean crop estimate by traders and farmers is only 200 000 tonnes. South Africa will have to start importing very soon and will require at least 7 million tonnes by the end of March 2017.

In Zimbabwe we need 2,7 million tonnes to meet demand in full until the 2016/17 crop is delivered and current stocks stand at about 350 000 tonnes including confirmed contracts for 90 000 tonnes which is in transit. This means we have to import 2,2 million tonnes over the next 18 months or 120 000 tonnes a month. The cost of this operation will be nearly a billion dollars and will present very serious logistical problems – Beira, the main Port of entry, being limited to perhaps 20 000 tonnes a week.

Even if we can meet this massive shortfall in supplies of our basic food, the water situation is even more serious. Right now, millions of people rely on water supplies based on rain fed river systems and ground water. In the southern half of the country, rivers are yet to flow and ground water is drying up very rapidly. Cattle and other livestock are dying in large numbers and market prices have collapsed. In 1982/83 when we last had a season like this I was General Manager of the Cold Storage Commission and we slaughtered 730 000 head in the year and purchased 280 000 head which we kept alive on the Ranches at West Nicholson.

We moved feed for the cattle from Mashonaland to West Nicholson by road and rail and had 6 000 well organised and equipped farmers to help with the exercise. We exported thousands of tonnes of beef to markets in Europe and Africa and at the end turned in a small loss and were able to restock many Ranches when the rains returned. Today none of that capacity exists.

On Commercial farms we have over 10 000 farm dams and in 1997 we had the capacity to irrigate 280 000 hectares of land in a dry season. The dams are still there, most of them are still nearly full, but the farmers who managed the whole system and the equipment that made it possible, are all gone. This year only 60 000 tonnes of maize is expected from all commercial farms in the country.

The pundits call Climate Change an “accelerator” – it makes everything else worse and more difficult. In a country like Zimbabwe with a lousy government and bad policies, climate change has suddenly made our situation more critical. This is compounded by perhaps the most incompetent Ministry of Agriculture on the Continent. In December they told the State President at the Zanu PF Conference that we had 10 months maize in stock. Now, six weeks later the stocks of maize in the south of the country are down to a week’s supply and only a month’s supply in the north.

Under this parasitic State not only has life expectancy plunged but incomes per capita have declined to the point where the great majority of our people are classified as being “absolutely poor’ and living on incomes of less than $2 a day; hardly in a position to handle yet another food and water crisis. I think that unless we get some heavy rain in the next three months, we are going to have to cope with internal refugees in the form of rural communities that will have to migrate to the urban areas to survive.

Then there is the dramatic dash of China over the past 40 years to try and achieve the evolution of a country to an advanced industrial complex that dominates the global market for manufactured goods. For 35 years this phenomenon has driven global markets for commodities and underpinned the expansion of trade by over 15 per cent per annum for all this period. The impact on the rest of the world has been dramatic, spurring growth and changing the character of employment and whole economies.

We now know that this “miracle” was driven by an autocratic regime that tolerated no dissent, by very low wages and salaries and scant protection for workers, by the transfer of hundreds of millions of peasant families to new urban/industrial conglomerates. Underpinning the whole thing was a global surplus of liquid cash – nearly $100 trillion – into which the Chinese were able to tap at will because they were able to convince the money lenders that they were a safe pair of hands and would repay.

They, like the Japanese, kept their currency undervalued to drive exports and in the process printed Yuan and bought US dollars by the billion. This created the largest foreign exchange reserves in the world accentuating the impression that China was flush with cash and could support its insatiable appetite for borrowings. In this way while the economy expanded at the breakneck speed of 12 to 15 per cent per annum, borrowings accumulated even faster, so that today total national debt in China is probably 250 per cent of GDP.

Fuelled by this flood of liquidity at historically low interest rates, the Chinese have spread out over the world buying assets and making sales of Chinese made equipment funded by Chinese credit. It makes it almost impossible to compete with them. Now suddenly, it looks as if the honeymoon is over. Growth has halved, global liquidity has been mopped up by “monetary easing” in Washington and Brussels. China is full of new real estate for which there is little or no demand.

Suddenly, to me anyway, China looks vulnerable – it still has hundreds of millions living in poverty, pollution is a real problem with no short term solution, global appetite for Chinese goods is contracting and their autocratic system of Government is under growing pressure. The major competitors in the USA, Europe and the Far East are all looking more confident and sound.

We are all going to have to adjust to this new changing world in which we live and while we grapple with these fundamental, global problems and changes, we have to contend with technological advances that are taking place so fast that the factories we work in today may simply vanish tomorrow. If you can manage change, if you can ride the wave when it reaches its peak like Steve Jobs, then life in the new world can be exciting and fulfilling, the alternative is unthinkable.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 12th January 2016