Media reports last week that the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is looking at leasing out national grain storage facilities to neighbouring Zambia provides what could be perhaps one of the clearest evidence of how our government has destroyed agriculture in this country.
The reasons given by the State-owned GMB for hiring out our grain silos is that Zimbabwe has “excess storage facilities”. Such a statement would have made one laugh had it not been a pointer to nationwide starvation and deeper misery for the people of this country.
A healthy state of affairs for any nation would be to worry about excess grain — not a situation where we seek to lease out empty grain silos as a way to raise money to import food for a nation faced with a frightening grain shortage!
Zimbabwe earned itself the title “bread basket for southern Africa” because of its ability to fill all its grain storage facilities, some of which are among the world’s biggest, and still being able to feed the region and beyond.
Zimbabwe’s transformation from regional bread basket to the basket case that we have become, took place when our government embarked on the chaotic, albeit noble, land reform programme in 2000.
In inexplicable and barbaric haste, we kicked expert and well-resourced farmers out of the country, killing some of them in the bloody State-sponsored exercise. We replaced them with top government and political officials that knew nothing about farming who then demanded and received farm equipment and inputs worth billions of dollars without paying a cent.
The same farmers we kicked out are the ones that are now producing so much grain Zambia has no place to put it. That is the reason why Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi made a direct call on the remaining white farmers to take up farming in his country as well.
Climate change and drought do not discriminate against our country. They affect the region in equal measure. We cannot continue to blame drought for our perpetually empty silos while our neighbours Malawi and Zambia grapple with storage space.
We destroyed our irrigation equipment while our neighbours had their systems put in place by former Zimbabwean farmers. Our President continues to call for the removal of expert farmers on the basis of skin colour while his counterparts plead with the same farmers to go to their countries and produce grain.
Back to the “excess silo” saga; what makes this deal curious is the fact that the silos our government seeks to lease out to Zambia could be on the verge of physical collapse due to years of disuse and neglect.
The GMB has over 80 depots across the country and 12 of them are equipped with those tall round silos. One of these facilities at the Lions Den is arguably the third largest in the world with a holding capacity of over 104 000 metric tonnes.
A report by the government’s auditor general Mildred Chiri earlier this year sums up the state of the country’s grain silos as nothing short of a disaster. No less than $50 million is required to refurbish the silos, she said.
Many of the silos have cracked and weakened to a point where large volumes of water has penetrated, making them unfit to store maize for human consumption. Most of them were built 23 years before independence (making them 58 years old) and to date, they have not been refurbished at all.
The peeling and cracking walls have transformed the silos into “grain roasting machines” while the water that has seeped into them has turned millions of metric tonnes of maize into “cake”, unfit even for livestock feed. So much grain has been thrown away while millions of people starve.
The auditor general’s report says some of the silos could have collapsed but have remained standing just because they are empty!
The report says: “…Lions Den, the third largest depot in the world after Austria and Egypt in terms of carrying capacity, had only five out of 29 silos that were suitable for storage of grain. With the state of dilapidation of the bins, the depot can only hold up to 25 000 tonnes [instead of 104 000 metric tonnes)].”
The government could have received a $51 million loan from Export-Import Bank of China (China Eximbank) to refurbish the silos but it failed to raise the $7,5 million deposit that the bank required to release the money.
So, after destroying agriculture, our government also failed to maintain the national grain silos, a massive agricultural asset by world standards, even as they have remained empty since the agricultural disaster of 2000.
A greater depth of irresponsibility than this is not easy to imagine.
But then again, such is the nature of Zimbabwe’s leaders; selfish, irresponsible, power-hungry, corrupt, greedy and arrogant. It is these attributes that have accounted for our multi-billion dollar diamonds which disappeared without anything to show for them.
Our leaders’ boundless greed and primitive accumulation has dislocated this country — yet they remain so filled with “patriotism” they want to remain in power — forever and at any cost!