By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka - Zimbabwe has started importing the 17,000 tonnes of maize it bought in Tanzania to alleviate food shortages following the El-Nino-induced drought that is ravaging the country.
The country agreed to import maize from Tanzania following a meeting between Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and President John Magufuli of Tanzania who indicated that his country had surplus grain from the 2018/2019 season. Magufuli disclosed this during an official visit to Zimbabwe last month.
According to a statement seen in Lusaka from the Tazara (Tanzania-Zambia Railways) management, one of the companies contracted to ferry the grain into Zimbabwe in the next few weeks, the Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tazara railway companies have been tasked to undertake the haulage of food in a contract signed by the three parties in Dar-Es-Salaam last week.
Under the agreement, Tazara will load the commodity from Makambako and Vwavwa in Tanzania and relay to Zambia Railways at New Kapiri Mposhi, which would later hand over the grain to the Zimbabwe railway authority in Livingstone for onward delivery to various points of storage in the country.
The exercise, expected to be undertaken and completed within three months, was expected to ensure that all the 17,000t is hauled collectively and expeditiously commencing on 9 September.
“As Tazara and speaking for the other two sister railways, we are delighted to take up this challenge and ensure the delivery is done without delay,” Conrad Simuchile, Tazara spokesperson said in a statement availed to The Southern Times in Lusaka.
“The 17,000 mt contract could be extended to 83,000 mt if successfully executed.”
Tazara managing director, Bruno Chingangu, described the contract as timely and his company had since allocated 100 wagons for the haulage, just like Zimbabwe and Zambia railways who had allocated same wagons to ensure proper execution.\
Zimbabwean delegation leader and that country’s railway vice board chairperson, William Dube, expressed gratitude that the railway companies had expressed their expeditious transportation commitments of the grain, noting that the affected beneficiaries were desperate to have the grain accessible without much delay.
Zimbabwe is among several Southern African nations hit by extreme weather in the 2018-19 growing season which devastated crops — especially maize used to make the country’s staple food ‘sadza’ or pap, a thick porridge that is served with various delicacies.
According to the United Nations, Zimbabwe's food situation has degenerated into an emergency with citizens in dire need of food. Estimates by UN aid agencies and the government show that the country needs a staggering $218 million to stave off hunger for about 5.5 million people between now and April 2020, when the next harvest is expected, based on assumption of good rainfall next season.
Bishow Parajuli, the coordinator of UN agencies in Zimbabwe, is cited as urging farmers to invest in irrigation and small grains as part of efforts to reduce the effects of climate.
The problem has been compounded by Cyclone Idai which hit Zimbabwe in March, destroying many crops a few weeks before harvest time.
"Unfortunately, we are moving from a crisis to an emergency, which is pretty serious," Parajuli said. "Also the economic challenges facing the country, people have lost their income. The situation is really precarious."
The drought has also affected water supply. Zimbabwe's hopes now depend on "the generosity of the international community," Parajuli is quoted as saying.