Wagon shortage undermines fertiliser, wheat imports

ZIMBABWE’S bulk importation of fertiliser and wheat from neighbouring countries is threatened by a shortage of wagons. The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) has admitted that it was difficult to move the consignments as it has a shortage of 2 239 wagon

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Zimbabwe is facing a critical shortage of wheat and fertiliser, a situation that has led to bread shortages and compromised the national crop harvest.


The government has released conflicting statements on the expected winter wheat harvest, saying it is expecting sufficient wheat supplies. But statements from NRZ officials last week revealed that government was in the process of importing wheat and fertiliser from neighbouring countries.


The NRZ this week said it would need a further 2 239 wagons to complement its current rolling stock to move the anticipated bulk imports of fertiliser and wheat.


NRZ general manager, Retired Air Commodore Mike Karakadzai, told stakeholders at a strategic meeting organised by the company last Friday in Bulawayo that the NRZ faced a shortage of wagons.


The NRZ currently has 5 638 operational wagons but requires 7 412 wagons to service the 2 759 kilometre local rail stretch.


“At the present moment we have 5 638 wagons that are in service against a requirement of 7 412 wagons,” Karakadzai said. “The shortfall of 2 239 will have a negative impact on our operations as we move the fertiliser and wheat that the country is going to import as from now onwards.”


But a senior member of Operation Maguta taskforce, Air Marshal Henry Muchena, on the same day told a National Economic Development Priority Programme meeting in Bulawayo that the country’s winter wheat programme had surpassed its targets after putting 30 500 hectares under crop in the 2005/06 season.


Muchena said the hectarage was expected to yield a minimum of 120 000 tonnes of wheat.


Giving an overview of operations at the company, Karakadzai said the NRZ had a potential to move 18 million tonnes of goods a year but that it was currently moving a mere 9,4 million.


It also emerged during deliberations that there were serious cases of pilferage on NRZ trains.


The NRZ came under fire from customers who highlighted pilferage cases of goods being transported by the NRZ.


Delegates also took a swipe at the NRZ for refusing to take responsibility for stolen or lost goods under its care and said the company should tighten its security controls.


In response Karakadzai said the issue of pilferage on NRZ trains was an insurmountable challenge.


“The issue of pilferage is insurmountable and we have had cases where guards are involved in fuel, sugar and cement pilferage but there is security provided for sensitive cargo and we have enlisted the Zimbabwe National Army to escort such cargo. We are also beefing up our security,” he said.


Turning to the challenges facing the company, Karakadzai said ageing infrastructure, shortage of business opportunities, shortage of foreign currency to purchase spares, a serious brain drain, theft and vandalism were hampering the company’s progress. — Staff Writer.