STATE-OWNED enterprise Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (Arda) is looking to ramp up a tomato processing and canning plant it set up in partnership with beverages maker Schweppes Holdings.
The tomato processing and canning factory is a public-private-partnership arrangement between Zagrinda, a company owned by Arda and the Development Trust of Zimbabwe, a division of Schweppes Zimbabwe.
Recently appointed Arda chairman Ivan Craig said in an interview that there were plans to boost production of the tomato canning project.
“The project is going very well but it is under-capacitated at the moment. We are going to come up with out-grower projects where we are going to recruit a lot of farmers to produce and feed into the plant so that we operate at full capacity,” Craig said. “We are saying the chances of pushing it to 100% capacity utilisation are very high because we have everything required to produce enough to feed into the plant,” he added.
He said that although the Norton plant was operating, a similar operation at Esigodini, Matabeleland South, was currently not running. Craig said there were plans by the restructured Arda board and management to revive operations at the Esigodini plant.
Craig said the Norton plant was operating well but could be improved.
The initial objective of the project was to produce tomato paste with around 70% of the produce being for the export market while the remainder catered for the domestic market. It was envisaged that farmers within the radius of the two plants would benefit as they would be contracted to grow, on an annual basis, a specific variety of tomatoes with the initial target being to process 100 tonnes daily at the Norton plant. The project was aimed at creating between 300 and 400 permanent jobs while downstream activities were expected to create between 4 000 and 5 000 jobs.
When the Norton project was started in 2015, former Arda chairman Basil Nyabadza revealed the project would be carried out in two phases with Schweppes providing working capital of US$2,2 million. Nyabadza said the working capital would cater for the purchase of tomato seeds and engagement of technical staff, among other costs. Machinery that has been procured for the project includes electric motors, storage tanks, piping material, steamers, mixers, among various farming implements like tractors, harvesters and sorting machines.
The equipment had been lying idle since the early 1980s.
In 2015 former Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko toured the plant and fumed at the Arda board for letting the equipment lie idle despite the plant’s potential to unlock shareholder value.
“Why do we have a board that gets paid for absolutely doing nothing when there is no production at this place?” the Vice President queried.
“These people clearly should not be here; they need to also explain clearly why after such a long time the equipment is lying idle and yet they are supposed to be the leaders,” he said during the tour of the plant.