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Sugar production declines

Rodwin Chirara

HIPPO Valley Estates, the country’s sole producer of sugar, has reported a sharp decline in production that could result in shortages of the commodity. According to the company’s statement for

the year-end results, production of sugarcane dropped to 1 963 189 tonnes compared to previous production levels of 2 320 200 tonnes. Production of sugar itself stood at 236 116 tonnes for the 2003 season.

Production per hectare of planted sugarcane also dropped to 106,28 tonnes for the season under review from 107,67 tonnes. This drop was against expectations of higher yields since conditions for growth were favourable during most of the season, Hippo Valley chairman Godfrey Gomwe, said in the company’s results.

Hippo was last year hit by a land ownership dispute with newly-resettled farmers and the case is still pending in the courts.

“As previously advised in a number of shareholder updates, the legal dispute on ownership of cane, and therefore, payment for cane delivered to the Hippo Valley mill between some A2 farmers and commercial cane farmers, remains unresolved,” Gomwe said.

“All the proceeds from the disputed cane purchases were paid over to the High Court in accordance with the provisions of the interpleader proceedings,” he said.

Gomwe said $1,8 billion had been paid to the High Court for the disputed cane, whilst $2,5 billion had been paid directly to A2 farmers whose cane was not in dispute.

He said discussions were ongoing with all concerned to find a solution as soon as possible.

Gomwe said cane yield for the year was 106,28 tonnes per hectare, which exceeded expectations, although it was marginally lower than the prior year’s yield of 107,67 tonnes.

He said the majority of third party cane suppliers experienced delivery constraints during the season.

“The majority of third party cane suppliers, including Mkwasine Estates, experienced cane delivery constraints during the season. A total of 368 943 tonnes of cane was delivered from Mkwasine suppliers compared with 426 700 tonnes in the previous year,” said Gomwe.

He said this year independent growers had delivered 350 787 tonnes, which was significantly lower than last year’s deliveries of 580 586 tonnes.

“The company experienced cane haulage difficulties as a result of machinery breakdowns due to the ageing fleet and unavailability of spares, and low bundle weights caused by lodged cane,” he said.

“Inclement weather during the latter part of October resulted in unseasonal rainfall which disrupted operations. All these factors resulted in the milling season extending into January 2004, causing significant adverse impact on milling efficiencies.”

Overall, Gomwe said recovery was a “disappointing 82,27% compared with 85,47% for the previous season, whilst efficiency was 87,64% compared to 89,04% in 2002”.

Zimbabwe not ready yet to rejoin Commonwealth.

DIPLOMATIC efforts to reconcile Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth have made no headway and there is little prospect that President Robert Mugabe’s government will rejoin soon, Commonwealth head Don McKinnon says.

“We consider it very sad that they have left the Commonwealth,” McKinnon said on Monday. “We would like them to come back, we believe someday they will be able to come back, but I think the climate right now is not really conducive,” he said.

Mugabe pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in December after the 54-member group of mostly former British colonies extended a suspension of the southern African nation’s membership.

Last week Mugabe derided the Commonwealth – which criticised his re-election in 2002 polls described as rigged by Western observers and local opposition groups – as an “evil” group bent on infringing Zimbabwe’s sovereignty. McKinnon said efforts by South Africa and Nigeria to bridge the gap with Zimbabwe appeared to be going nowhere.

“I believe we’ve done everything possible to see some kind of reconciliation. But there has just been no desire to do such a thing on the Zimbabwe side.”- Reuter.

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