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Natfoods predicts shortages

Ngoni Chanakira

OUT-GOING National Foods Holdings (Natfoods) chairman Godfrey Gomwe has thrown out government information predicting bumper maize and wheat harvests this year, saying Zimbabwe could actually

be staring at several consumer shortages this year.

Gomwe, who also chairs mining giant Anglo American Corporation (AAC) and sits on several Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE)-listed companies, expressed the sentiments in his last statement accompanying Natfoods results for the period ended December 31 released last week.

He said in the short-term, many farmers who had been settled on re-allocated farms did not have sufficient financial resources, equipment or experience to grow wheat in the quantities previously realised in the country.

“The crop four years ago was close to 350 000 tonnes, which made the country virtually self-sufficient, compared to about 60 000 tonnes in 2003,” he said. “The Grain Marketing Board remained the sole distributor of wheat during the year. Their importation of the wheat was erratic and milling companies were rationed accordingly.”

Gomwe said for most of the year the amount received was less than 50% of the quantity allocated to the company and this created bread shortages during the year.

He said to supplement requirements and increase flour volumes, the company was given permission to import wheat suitable for confectionery and biscuit type products, which were not as price sensitive, leaving the lower cost GMB wheat for bread manufacture.

Commenting on the maize situation, Gomwe said the country had faced two successive years of poor maize production and the current season did not promise to support a good crop in the next harvest.

“Shortages of seed and fertiliser as well as intermittent fuel supplies exacerbated this problem,” Gomwe said.

“Continuity of supply of maize for the last two years has been based on imports by the Grain Marketing Board, which has been augmented by aid and non-governmental organisation activity to prevent starvation in some parts of the country.

The use of maize supplied by the Grain Marketing Board has been restricted to human consumption, with any maize required for stockfeeds having to be imported at much higher prices.”

He said the GMB had made negligible amounts of maize available during the early part of the year resulting in pitiful sales.

“The milling capacity of the company is severely under-utilised,” Gomwe said.

“With plans by government to expand the Grain Marketing Board milling capacity and the widespread hammer-milling activity throughout the country, the likelihood of re-establishing full capacity utilisation of these plants is remote.”

He said the situation was also gloomy for soyabeans and cottonseed, rice, salt, sugar beans and dog food.

“National Foods has successfully accessed 30% funding provided by the central bank, which has been utilised to re-finance existing facilities and also for raw material purchases,” Gomwe said.

“This will make a substantial difference to the cost of all products and prices are being reduced to generate more sales volumes,” Gomwe said.

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