The import issue

17 04 2014
  1. Deirdre Holcroft shared a link.
    4 April
    Hi Deirdre,
    I did have mixed feelings about this when I first heard of it. Generally I am not in favour of protectionism which I presumed this to be. However, a lot of my customers complain that they just cannot compete with the South African imports that this was supposedly targeting. My seed supplier tells me that the carrots that come into this country (yes it does seem daft that we import carrots which is something we grow perfectly well) are grown by a South African farmer who grows 900ha. No, there are the correct number of zeros there. On this scale he can afford to take a very small markup and it would be difficult to compete. Of course there are some things such as cabbages which would be impossible to get here economically due to their weight. Having said that there is a shortage this season and prices are sky high. This is largely due to a major producer being kicked off his farm and to the abnormally heavy rains in February that trashed many crops.
    I was chatting to someone I know on the weekend who works for Selby Enterprises that produce quite a lot of fresh produce and import what they cannot grow. He was of the opinion that the ban was designed to take the small cross border traders out of the market. They buy cheap,  poor quality produce then import it and bribe the customs not to pay duties and sell it off very cheaply to the informal markets. Then he added; “Of course you can still get an import permit if you pay a bit extra”. No surprises here really; nearly anything is available in Zimbabwe for a price.
    Apparently in Botswana they have a system whereby the government meets fresh produce suppliers weekly and issues import permits based on expected shortfalls. This is a model that should have been adapted; if the purpose of the scheme was actually to protect local suppliers and not give those with contacts preferential access to import permits.
    I have heard people question the need for a lot of the luxury produce that comes into this country (I have commented on Egyptian grapes in the supermarkets elsewhere in this blog). No, we don’t NEED luxury produce but it is really a miniscule part of our already massive import bill and our problems run far deeper as anyone who has followed the link you provided will have realized. I heard that at last year’s CFU (Commercial Farmers’ Union) Congress the guest of honour was a Zambian woman who is the chairman of the equivalent organisation in Zambia. In her address she commented that Zambia is now an exporter of maize for the first time in many years. She stopped short of saying it was thanks to the Zimbabwean farmers who fled the land grab exercise and settled in Zambia, but the inference was there. As you know, we now need to import maize to meet our requirements of this staple food; an undesirable situation if ever there was one. Zambia did say earlier this year (or was it at the end of last year?) that it would give us maize on credit but then they changed their minds. Such is our credit rating. Maize production was subsidized for many years in this country just to avoid this sort of situation and this is one of the few instances where I think a subsidy is justified.
    So, this morning I found myself in Borrowdale Village shopping centre and went past a fish shop that I’d passed many times but never entered. Curious, I went inside and in the spirit of this post bought myself two pieces of Scottish salmon. No, I will not divulge how much they cost. But it was delicious!




Orchids, orchids

16 04 2014

The Zimbabwe Orchid Society had their autumn show on the weekend. As usual it was a profusion of colour and fascinating flowers. I was told that a lot of what was on display was not of competition quality but was there for the show. Still, it was quite a show. This is quite a small selection of what was there.





Back to Mana Pools

9 04 2014

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to Mana Pools Game Reserve on the north-western border of Zimbabwe. It is perhaps one of the better known game parks in the country and is very popular “in season” which is usually taken to be June through to the end of September after which it gets too hot for most people. Situated in the Zambezi Valley it can easily get into the mid 40 degrees (Celcius). This time of year it gets into the mid 30s during the day and can be humid to boot and the bush is relatively lush after the rains. There is water everywhere so the game is more widely dispersed than in the dry season when it congregates at the pans and the Zambezi River. But it’s still worth a visit and is far from over-crowded as we discovered this last weekend.





Cosmos season

24 03 2014

If the cosmos is out summer is coming to and end. It’s been a strange summer; very patchy rainfall though the overall quantity was about normal. The south of the country had significant flooding at the beginning of February but it’s all very dry now just when the maize and soya crops need moisture to fill the cobs and pods. So I guess we will be begging for food from the WFP and others.

Well, the cosmos is pretty enough.

I caught this bee and caterpillar sharing a flower.

I caught this bee and caterpillar sharing a flower.

 





Counterfeit cops

24 03 2014

Thursday, 11h20 and I am driving north along Golden Stairs road to go to Bob’s engineering shop to get some minor welding done on the battery bracket of my Land Cruiser. The lights on The Chase are green, I don’t need to slow down. A police marked BMW pulls out of a slip road after I pass and rolls slowly down the road behind me, holding up the traffic. I watch it in the rear view mirror and wonder how they have already managed to get only one headlight working. In nearly 40 years of driving I have always had two working headlights.

I turn left into Prices Road and slow down for the speed humps. A car tries to pass me, hooting. I ignore it. He can wait until the road is wider. He tries again so I think the twit can pass; it’s safer that way, so I ease over. He draws alongside. Hoots again and I see two policemen in the unmarked car. They tell me to pull over. I know I have done nothing wrong so am already suspicious.

“Why didn’t you pull over?” they demand.

“You are in an unmarked car and how am I supposed to see you are wearing uniforms in my rear view mirror.” I get a good look at them. One is wearing the brown police uniform with cap and yellow traffic vest. The other, with noticeably protruding teeth is in the grey uniform of a junior constable.

“You went through a red light back there”.

“No I did not” I retort as the blood pressure rises.

“We saw you go through” they reply.

“Well that is indeed surprising as the MARKED police BMW at the lights did not stop me”.

“So what colour was the light then?”

Now this is a really stupid question having just told me I went through a red light. “Green. Look, if you have a problem with this we can go and discuss it at Marlborough police station” I retort, my patience wearing thin. The effect of this challenge is immediate.

“Well, we are just letting you go with a warning then”.

What is this? A WARNING for going through a red light? I drive off slowly and remember the car registration plate; ADG3020. I recount the story to Bob when I get there and he tells me of a near identical incident he had near the Mukuvisi Woodlands game park on the way to the airport. He also stood his ground and they gave up.

On the way back to work I call in at the Marlborough police station and report the incident. The woman officer is quite excited and pleased I got down the registration number but I tell her it has almost certainly changed already.

Were they ordinary criminals in stolen police uniforms or genuine police trying their luck? Shelton told me I did well to get their number plate but cautioned against getting aggressive when I suggested I should have just run them off the road. He said one cannot be sure they wouldn’t pull a weapon out. When using the local minibuses he never gets in one unless there are other people in it or he recognizes the tout or the driver. It seems Harare is not as safe as it used to be.





The law and the numbers

3 03 2014

“Chinamasa’s Job on the Line” blared the title page of the Financial Gazette, the weekly financial newspaper, on sale yesterday. Now the newspaper billboards in this country are as about as misleading as anywhere but the FinGaz or Pink Paper (the cover is printed on pink newsprint) is a little less sensationalistic than the rest of the competition and it does like to take itself a bit more seriously. So I bought a copy at the traffic lights (I made sure other vehicles could get past) and well, I needed some paper to start the braai (barbeque).

Patrick Chinamasa is the current Minister of Finance who has the unenviable job of finding enough money to keep the government running when it is obviously broke. Apparently President Mugabe had told him if he wasn’t up to the job he’d find someone else to do it.

Chinamasa’s background is not in finance. I’m not sure what history is but he certainly had an easier run in his former portfolio as the Justice Minister. Mind you, it’s easy to run a ministry like that when you control the police so you effectively ARE the law. Paradoxically the previous finance Minister was Tendai Biti who actually is a lawyer and did a good job with extremely limited resources.

The FinGaz also notes that Chinamasa came back empty-handed from a recent world tour to source finance for the beleaguered government. No real surprise this as apparently potential investors are concerned about the 51% law which requires all Zimbabwe companies to have a majority indigenous shareholder. Despite being born here I am not indigenous – all locally born blacks are considered indigenous as is anyone born after independence in 1980. Well, Comrade Chinamasa likely has an insurmountable problem ahead of him. The laws of economics (which is just a branch of mathematics) are inviolate unlike his previous ministry where the law was wide open to manipulation and interpretation. And even our good friends the Chinese don’t want to help out.





The power and the cheese

26 02 2014

I am feeling rather pleased with myself. Almost smug. The power has been off for most of the day and there is no sign that it will come back on so I have made a plan for the evening. A combination of no lights, a clear sky and a full moon makes for good stargazing conditions and it’s about time I checked on the binoculars in the cupboard.

I set up the tripod on the verandah, fasten the adapter to the front of my rather under-used Nikon 10×50 binoculars and clamp it all onto the tripod. I clear away the solar panels for the LED lamps, they must be fully charged by now (wasn’t it a good idea to leave them charging all day?), and settle down to focus the binoculars.

Dusk is falling rapidly as is its way in the topics. There is a light on the hill opposite – about 5km away and a perfect focusing spot. I wonder if they don’t have a power cut or have their own generator. Closing my right eye I focus the binos so that the left field is clear then close my left eye and use the focusing ring on the right objective lens to get a clear image of the light. Perfect. I sit back and enjoy the evening.

There is a buzz behind me as the fridge kicks into life. The power is back. It doesn’t matter; it is relatively dark where I live outside Harare so I will just turn the lights out and use the red LED lantern that I made to preserve my night vision. It is a perfect evening; mild and calm. I look on the horizon for an early star but it is still too light. I look up. Damn, clouds have moved in and they don’t look like the transient type. Now the mosquitoes start up. No! What has happened to my perfect plan? And now it starts to spit raindrops.

I put all the carefully prepared equipment away and go to see what can be done about supper. There’s a wedge of Camembert in the fridge that needs eating. I unwrap it. It doesn’t look good and is a bit slimy on the outside. But I am a Camembert veteran who is not easily put off his favorite cheese. I cycled across France in August of 1987 and subsisted on ripe Camembert and baguettes. It was hot, very hot, and by the end of the day the cheese could be poured out of the container. This, however, is not French Camembert and the fridge has been off all day. This cheese is more than ripe, it is rank. I try a piece and struggle. I call Zak. He is no cheese connoisseur but does like smelly things that can turn a human’s stomach. He is a bit hesitant to take the proffered cheese and biscuit. Does he know something about this cheese that I don’t? What has his nose detected? Maybe he is just a bit suspicious. He eats the cheese in the privacy of the lounge and comes back for more. He gets a bit but only one piece as he often sleeps with his rear end rather close to my head. The cheese goes back in the cooling fridge for future disposal. I can’t risk more either. I have a dentist’s appointment first thing tomorrow and it wouldn’t do to fart in the company of two rather attractive ladies!








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