Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
THE Command Agriculture programme targeting livestock farmers is set to be the stepping stone in the revival of the Cold Storage Commission as farmers will be mandated to sell the animals to the company the same way crop farmers are expected to deliver to the Grain Marketing Board.
In an interview on Friday Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made said Government will extend the Command Agriculture to livestock farmers where beneficiaries will then sell the livestock to CSC.
He, however, could not say when the programme will be rolled or how much has been budgeted for the programme.
“Plans to revive the CSC are quite there as we are going to support livestock farmers. It means just like we have done with the Command Agriculture supporting the GMB (Grain Marketing Board) we are going to do the same so CSC should go to its proper role.
“Firstly they have infrastructure to slaughter, process… It (CSC) needs to be capacitated to supply the domestic market and then export. Development of livestock should be the engine to support the farmers…development of livestock should be the engine to support the farmers,” said Dr Made.
He said interest rates for livestock farmers under the Command Agriculture Programme would be lower than those in the Government’s grain support scheme introduced last year.
Grain farmers under Command Agriculture are obliged to pay an interest rate of four percent and that of livestock will be even lower than that, and the same rates required by banks and financial institutions which charge 15 to 20 percent. He said as part of the restructuring process of the CSC, a new board would be announced.
“Soon we will be announcing the CSC board and then we move from there,” said Dr Made.
CSC has over the past decade-and-a-half been facing a myriad of challenges and constraints largely due to underutilisation of capacity (at both factories and ranches), failure to raise adequate working capital (under-capitalisation), disease outbreaks (mainly foot and mouth), and decline in commercial cattle herd, high staff turnover and an ageing fleet.
It has over the years managed to stay afloat through service slaughter, rent from tenants using its industrial complex and leasing its feedlots and ranches in various areas in the country and continues to battle legacy debts running into millions of dollars, which frustrate its viability, with the company has been operating at less than 10 percent of its capacity over the years.
The company’s demise started in 2001 after the European Union suspended imports of beef and related products from Zimbabwe following an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. The company has also been hit hard by illegal sanctions by the West on the country.
The Minister said the move to allow private players into the meat industry also hit hard on CSC.
“The CSC generally speaking, other than the challenges it has been facing, it has also been competing with private abattoirs that don’t support farmers but now we are saying anyone who doesn’t fund the farmers, we are saying no, because we can’t be seen to be allowing that,” said Dr Made.
CSC, could be losing $250 000 per month in potential revenue at its headquarters in Bulawayo since most of its business has now been taken by private abattoirs.
In 2015 statistics from the Zimbabwe Abattoirs’ Association showed that the country slaughters between 18 000 and 22 000 cattle a month with the abattoirs in Matabeleland accounting for 6 000 to 7 000 slaughters.
In the past the CSC used to slaughter more than 90 percent of cattle in Matabeleland and for each slaughter the company charges $40 per beast although $2 is paid to the Department of Veterinary Services as an inspection fee.
If CSC was slaughtering the Matabeleland quota and charging the above fees it could raise more than a quarter of a million in a month from slaughtering fees alone. The market has now been taken by private abattoirs that have sprouted in the region.
Mangwe Farmers’ Association chairman Mr Adam Bango-Dube said the move to introduce Command Agriculture Programme for livestock was a welcome development that would go a long way in enhancing the sector’s productivity.
“Firstly we are constantly in touch with the Government as Mangwe Farmers Association and we were quite aware that this programme was on its way. We are, however, very excited about this development because we will be able to access inputs and loans. The programme will give livestock industry an impetus because it was the only section of agriculture which had been left out,” said Bango-Dube.