Government Clueless About How to Respond to Drought – Cross

By Eddie Cross, MP

Now Daily Analysis

Below is the unedited text of a speech delivered by Bulawayo South MP Edward Graham Cross (MDC-T) in the National Assembly on Thursday February 4 2016.

HON. CROSS: Thank you Mr. Speaker for giving me this opportunity this afternoon. I want to draw the attention of the House to the circumstances which have changed since the President gave His State of the Nation to us. This is because I see an emergency situation as a result of the drought conditions which prevail in the country at this time and in fact throughout the region.

I want to bring to the attention of the House the situation regarding maize supplies, water supplies and the issue of livestock. Mr. Speaker Sir, on the 15th December, 2015, the Grain Marketing Board had in its stocks 150 000 tonnes of maize and they are distributing this stock at a

rate of 10 000 to 15 000 tonnes per month, largely on a welfare basis to affected families in drought stricken areas. The private sector held on the 15th January, 2016, 119 000 tonnes. The total stock in transit on the same day was 90 000 tonnes largely in the form of maize from Argentina and Zambia. This gave us as total stock holding at the middle of January 2016 of 359 000 tonnes, which is two months supply at our domestic demand of 150 000 tonnes per month. If we assume the Grain Marketing Board stocks are used at the rate of 10 000 tonnes a month which is 200 000 bags a month, largely for the purposes of welfare, then stocks at the GMB cannot be considered as part of the commercial stock holding for the country.

Mr. Speaker Sir, in addition to this situation, the United States and United Kingdom have both contributed to a special fund of US$100 million which is going to be used for income support for rural families. My understanding is that this is going to cover 300 000 families at the rate of US$35 per month for the next ten months. This suggests to me that the first point which we have to consider is that the welfare needs of

about 500 000 families have been largely accommodated at this moment in time. This leaves in the rural areas about 200 000 families who are not covered by these welfare disbursements. The balance is 140 000 tonnes a month of maize that we require for domestic consumption.

Mr. Speaker, we convened a meeting of producers in the middle of January and their estimate of the national crop this year was given at 200 000 tonnes. This suggest that if we allocate that on a monthly basis throughout the rest of the year there will be a supply of about 20 000 tonnes to local markets on a monthly basis. This leaves us with a demand for a 120 000 a month as a direct import requirement with immediate effect. That means we have to look at where this maize can come from and what is the logistics situation?

Mr. Speaker, the situation is extremely worrying, the total capacity of Beira at this moment in time is 20 000 tonnes week. The total capacity therefore, on a monthly basis is 86 000 tonnes. And if we can only get 86 000 tonnes a month through Beira, it leaves us with the shortfall of 40 000 tonnes a month which has to come from other places.

The other sources would be either Zambia or South Africa. Zambia is expecting a maize crop of roughly 2 million tonnes this year. Above Lusaka they have received fairly normal rains and below Lusaka, particularly the Southern area, the rains have been inadequate and the crop will be affected by drought.

Mr. Speaker Sir, in addition to that, Zambia is holding approximately 400 000 tonnes of maize in stock and they should therefore be able to meet the majority of their own requirements. Their dilemma as a country is whether to concede continuing to export from their own stocks to places like Zimbabwe or whether to suspend exports and leave us to our own devices. At the present moment in time, the Zambian Food Reserve Agency is limiting exports from their own stocks and the total capacity logistically, of taking maize from Zambia is about 40 000 tonnes a month. If we are therefore able to secure maize from Zambia we should be able to accommodate our domestic needs, providing we can bring sufficient maize through Beira.

We now have to look at the South African situation, Mr. Speaker because this has a direct impact on the regional situation for all maize importing countries. These would be Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All of these countries use the same infrastructure – the ports and the railway system of Southern Africa. At this moment in time, the latest estimate is that South Africa will have to import 7 000 000 tonnes of maize in the next 12 months. Mr. Speaker, that is 500 000 tonnes a month. The total combined capacity of South African ports at this moment is 4 000 000 tonnes a year, which means all South African ports are going to be operating at capacity just dealing with South Africa’s own requirements and the requirements of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi are simply not going to be able to be accommodated at South African ports.

Just to give members some idea of the total magnitude of the problem and this is very serious Mr. Speaker Sir; the total needs of Southern Africa over the next 18 months is going to be 22 000 000

tonnes of grain. That is about 4 000 000 tonnes of wheat and the balance, 18 000 000 tonnes of maize; that is 1 200 000 tonnes of imports a month; that is 150 ships at sea at any one point in time. It is 40 000 railway wagons employed on the movement; it is 1200 locomotives and this is on top of all the other demands which are currently being made in Southern Africa. The total capacity of Beira Port is 1.5 million tonnes a year. The total capacity of Maputo is 500 000 tonnes as they do not have any bulk import facilities in Maputo. The capacity of South African Ports is 4 000 000 tonnes a year. That is 6 000 000 tonnes which you have got to put against the total import demand of 22 000 000 tonnes.

Mr. Speaker, this means that unless some kind of emergency arrangements are made for the coordination of imports and the prioritisation of import activity, railway movements, port activities and the arrival of ships; if this is not synchronised on a regional basis there is a very real possibility that individual countries will not be able to meet the domestic demands for maize in their own markets and the worst

affected country in the region is Zimbabwe. We are going to have to import 2 400 000 tonnes of maize and wheat in the next 18 months. I say 18 months because it will be 18 months before there is any new crop in Zimbabwe derived from this coming season.

This means, Mr. Speaker Sir, that Zimbabwe is in a very precarious position. We are in a position today and this is the first time in my life that I have ever seen this situation, where we could physically run out of maize. I do not need to tell you the consequences; every Zimbabwean knows we have not eaten if we have not eaten mealie meal. We have mealie meal on a daily basis. It is our primary staple food. If that product is not available on a ready basis throughout the country at any moment in time it will trigger social unrest on a massive scale. I think we have to take cognisance of this and recognise that an emergency situation exists.

I would like to suggest that as soon as possible, we approach SADC and we ask the SADC Secretariat to set up a working group in Gaborone to monitor the situation in the region to coordinate shipping,

railway activity and procurement. Mr. Speaker, 22 000 000 tonnes of grain is not an insignificant volume on the international market. The other day we, in Zimbabwe, were offered 500 000 tonnes of white GMO free maize from the Ukraine. We expressed an interest in buying it because we now have a line of credit. Before we could buy that maize India moved in and bought the entire stock.

Mr. Speaker, we have to move on these matters. It takes three months to ship maize from Argentina or the USA to Zimbabwe. The other aspect of this is going to be the increase in the price. The other day I bought for my constituency one tonne of maize meal and I paid US$3.95 for a 10kg bag. The price of mealie meal in South Africa has doubled. It is going to increase dramatically here and this is going to have a serious impact on poor families throughout the country.

I would like now, just to deal with the water situation. I know the Minister responsible has made a statement on this matter, but I did not believe she briefed this House sufficiently on the urgency of the matter. The situation is that Gweru has four months water left in its dams. Let

me just reiterate that Gweru, the third largest city in the country, has four months water in its dams. In Bulawayo we have already decommissioned one dam. We are preparing to decommission a second. So, out of the six dams in Bulawayo a third will be decommissioned before May.

Mr. Speaker, the problem in Bulawayo is that, as you decommission dams, you lose the capacity to deliver water because each dam has its own pipeline. If you are left, as we are, with just Insiza dam with a single pipeline supplying Bulawayo, we can only supply Bulawayo with 20% or 30% of its total demands. The Bulawayo City Council has already imposed restrictions at 60% of free demand. Bulawayo has a good track record in terms of managing its water supplies, but Mr. Speaker, I want to tell you that if we do not do anything about infrastructure in Bulawayo, the very real danger is that Bulawayo could run out of water with dire consequences.

If you go to Matabeleland South the water situation for livestock is dire. I understand in Masvingo provinces also the Kyle dam is 25% full.

What is being done about ensuring that the irrigators in the low veld who are drawing water for sugar cane are being put on a restricted basis so that our cities, particularly in the northern parts and Masvingo, can have their basic water supplies protected. Previously, when the sugar companies were allowed to draw water on an unrestricted basis, it almost got to the point where we could not supply Masvingo.

Now, Mr. Speaker Sir, this points to a national emergency. It is my view that more than 3 000 000 people are going to be affected by water shortages this winter and for many of those families they are going to have to move to town to relatives to survive. They are not going to be able to find water for their domestic purposes in the rural areas. Our city situation is by no means good.

Finally, I just want to talk about the situation regarding livestock. As you know my whole life has been in the cattle industry. I was the General Manager of the CSC in 1983 when we had a severe drought similar to this one. At this moment in time, I estimate that 3 500 000 herd of cattle are living in areas where there will be no grazing this

winter and very little water. At least 700 000 head of cattle are going to die. Now, Mr. Speaker, that is a loss of US$350 000 000 in income to the poorest communities in the country. This represents a catastrophe.

In 1983 what we did was, we bought cattle on a survival basis from the producers, paid them a market price and we put the cattle on the CSC ranches at West Nicolson when we fed 280 000 head of cattle right through the winter on a survival ration. This year there is no institution with the financial capacity for that. Those cattle are going to die where they live and it will take us years to recover from this position. I understand at this moment in time that donkeys are dying in the rural areas. I have never, in all my life, heard of donkeys dying of poverty and starvation.

Mr. Speaker Sir, just one last thought for the House and that is the question of the situation in urban areas. When we talk about welfare needs and so on, I am representing an urban constituency and in my constituency, especially in Tshabalala and Sizinda, I have 17 000 homes. Mr. Speaker, I must tell you that a high proportion of the people in my

constituency do not have food even for one meal a day. We are trying by all means to provide food on an emergency basis to these people.

The previous time when this happened in 1992 the country had a functioning GMB. We had money in the bank as a country. We were able to meet the majority welfare needs of the majority of our people. We had a railways which was functioning. Today, the railways cannot move more than 3.5 million tonnes a year. They just do not have the locomotives. We have 36 functional locomotives in the whole country. There is no way today, we can respond adequately to this crisis. I want to mention to Hon. Members that if they have not looked at the satellite images of Southern Africa in recent weeks, they should look at it on a regular basis and you will see how Zimbabwe is the worst affected country in the entire region and it is an El Nino factor. It could be that this situation is permanent. This is not something which is going to be short term. This is something which we are going to take on board as an ordinary, normal function of our daily lives.

My concern is that there is no declaration of an emergency. There is no international appeal to the donors for assistance. There is no coordinated approach to this matter. The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development seems to be completely at loss and you saw a day before yesterday that the Deputy Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Services did not have a clue as to how to respond to this crisis. I just wanted to give the House a briefing along those lines this afternoon, Mr. Speaker Sir.

  • Edward Graham Cross is the Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South (MDC-T).

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