27 03 2022

Anyone anywhere who has tried to import materiel knows that paperwork is essential. Where you are depends on how tedious it all is. In Zimbabwe three import permits are required for plant material; a Plant Import Permit, a Control of Goods Act Import Permit and a National Biocontrol Authority Import Permit. So when I need to import the coir pith (coco peat is the trade name) that we use in the nursery as a propagation medium, I am filled with a sense of dread and resignation. It can be a tedious process, really tedious.

Compounding the issue is the Covid crisis. I have had an order in with my supplier in India for eight months now. Finally he said that he could source a container but it would have to come in via Durban in South Africa, not the shorter land route via Beira in Mozambique. I have had to use this route once before in 2014 so went back through my file; the C & F (carriage and freight) price to Durban had increased 200%. I don’t know how much of this was the container but I do know that thanks to Covid prices of containers have skyrocketed. There was nothing to be done about that; the imported medium is much better quality than the local medium, so I got on with the application process.

The Ministry of Agriculture building where two of the permits are to be applied for is quite close to where I live and fortunately well out of the CBD. It’s also had quite a makeover since I was last there just over a year ago for another purpose. The gardens have been spruced up and the parking lot and entry and exit made less hazardous off the busy Borrowdale Road that passes it. I suppose it’s a small expense compared with fixing up the disastrous state of the roads and public hospitals but I do feel it shows where the interest in spending money lies.

In order to start the process I had to provide a number of other documents. Several were company registration documents and easy to get copies of them from the accounting firm where they are kept. Another was proof of membership of the Agricultural Marketing Association (AMA) and despite the name I’ve yet to ascertain exactly what it does apart from take US$350 per year off me. I did notice that they had gone some way towards making applications entirely online.

They young man in the AMA office was pleasant and chatty. He took the completed forms off me and put them through the very large scanner/copier/printer in the corner of the room. “We are making every effort to go paperless” he commented. When I pointed out that it was a very large and new printer he did admit that it was a bit ironic. He was well informed and actually did know what coir pith was and what it was used for. The actual registering online took a bit of tweaking over the phone but I’ll admit to being impressed that it actually does work even it it’s not very intuitive. Zimbabwe is progressing in very select areas!

The permit application process at the Ministry of Agriculture was also surprisingly painless. The Plant Import Permit was ready within three working days and the Control of Goods Act permit two days after that. I didn’t have to queue long either! The Biocontrol Permit needs a declaration from the coir pith supplier but that can only be had once the coir is packed in the container and ready to be shipped. Apparently I can also apply for that entirely online. We’ll see. Of course fuel prices have increased markedly in the last month which was after I got the original quote so I haven’t dared to inquire what the new transport costs from Durban will be.

Some of the stands at the ART field day

The long reach of the Ukraine – Russia war has got to Zimbabwean agriculture. At the annual ART (Agricultural Research Trust) Farm open day, held close to my nursery, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture exhorted the audience to grow lots of wheat this coming season. It seems that we import nearly 50% of our wheat requirement, mainly from Russia. No doubt this influenced Zimbabwe’s abstention at the UN meeting on the Russian invasion, as did Russia’s support of Joshua Nkomo’s ZIPRA faction in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe’s civil war that culminated in Zimbabwe independence in 1980. It was probably not lost on the audience that we wouldn’t be so dependent on wheat imports in the first place if the government would just get on with making land tenure a reality so that farmers would have collateral against which to borrow. Banks have made it clear that loans will not be forthcoming any other way. I guess there will be a bread shortage later this year.



6 responses

27 03 2022

How bad do you think the food shortages will be in Zim? I understand that there’s already less fertilizer on the market everywhere.
I live in France, in an agricultural area, and so far there hasn’t been much commotion over crops but I think after the presidential election (in April), we will.
I remember what a hassle it was just to get documents sent via FedEx or DHL to Zimbabwe, I spent hours at the Customs office at the Harare airport just to sign off and pay for duties on just one box!

27 03 2022

No idea of knowing. Fertilizer prices have gone up substantially. I rushed out an bought a year’s worth just after the war started and one place had marked up their ammonium nitrate by more than 100%. I eventually found it for much less than that by a quirk of our bizarre exchange rate “system”.
One outlet did tell me that the speculators had already come calling wanting to buy up large quantities of fertilize but they had turned them down in favour of keeping regular customers supplied.

27 03 2022

Containers have shyrocketed here too. International truck drivers are experiencing long delays on our borders too, thanks to Brexit, hours sometimes days! Single product loads are relatively easy but separate paperwork has to be completed for each product! One driver had his truck and tanker minutely searched on re entry to the UK, sniffer dogs to detect illegal immigrants are employed but have not unfortunately been trained to tell the difference between humans and the traces of tallow left on the tank from the load which was exported!

28 03 2022

How has the rainy season ended? It looks like it started well but then fizzled. Any chance of some late rain to fill the dams? I am from old Zim farming stock but live in the US now. I still try and get data on how things are going, but it is surprisingly difficult to get information on Zim rains! I thoroughly enjoy your blog, by the way!

29 03 2022

It was very patchy as appears to be the new norm. Predicted to be a la Nina year but it didn’t materialize into meaningful rain for most of us. A customer in Centenary had noting meaningful until January then 600mm in one month! Here in Harare we had a good start then a very dry December and sporadic rain thereafter for a total of 650mm or so which is much the same as last season in which most of the country got good rains – except us.
I do know someone who farms in the Macheke area and they have been very dry. Paradoxically Bulawayo has had reasonable rains.
You can find dam levels here:

20 05 2022

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