The broken economy?

13 06 2019

After visiting the ADMA Agrishow one could be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing much wrong with the Zimbabwe economy. Covering some 12ha at the centre of the Borrowdale racecourse it’s a glut of agricultural machinery, supplies and engineering firms and more than a few “toys for the boys” to boot.

I didn’t get around it all, it was far too big and a map would have been useful, but it was a nice break from the tedium of survival in Zimbabwe and quite inspiring that such a show can still be put on. I wasn’t really sure what the relevance of the Landrovers were (nothing like the Landrovers that I knew as a kid) and I still haven’t found out what ADMA stands for. The weather was good too, I saw a few people I know and scored a free coffee. Tomorrow I’ll go back to the reality and deal with the power line that has yet again been stolen from by my nursery.





A tentative start

27 06 2015

It was not very well attended but Geoff, who is naturally optimistic, said “Yes, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen something like this and that is good news”.

I had to agree. It was not a big agricultural machinery show by any standards but it was most certainly a start.┬á The really big combines were privately owned and on loan for the show. There were some very high tech irrigation systems and all nature of sprayers including a Brazilian made battery powered knapsack sprayer that caught my fancy. But who has the money to afford these systems and where are the farms that need them? Mostly gone in the chaos that peaked in the early part of the century when government backed “war vets” evicted most of the white commercial farmers. And the country is very nearly broke.

It continues in a smaller way today. I was chatting to the owner of a smaller nursery near Karoi in the north west of the country. She and her husband rented a farm and co-existed with 7 small scale farmers. A year ago they were kicked off the farm and today there is only one small scale farmer left and very little evidence that it was ever a productive farm.

So will there be another farming equipment show next year? I cannot answer that but a lot of people are hoping there will be and it will be bigger.

 

show

Not a big show but a start.

local spuds

Local ingenuity – a potato lifter. Not high tech but it works.

high sprayer

Now that’s what I call a tall sprayer!

demonstration

Field demonstrations

big combine

A combine harvester worthy of any first world farm. This one was on loan for the show.

diesel pump

A diesel powered pump. Useful when the power is unreliable

centre pivot

High tech irrigation system

big john deere

One careful owner.

banners

Well, the advertising banner industry seems to be healthy!





Perspective

14 09 2014

We descended below the clouds some 20 minutes out of Harare airport. A bit of mental arithmetic made that some 100 km or so depending on the speed of the aircraft. I wasn’t in a window seat but had a reasonably clear view of the countryside and kept an eye open for irrigated crops, their intense green easy to spot at this time of year against the brown of the veld. Nothing. One or two old centre pivot irrigation fields were detectable by their characteristic circular pattern but now they were derelict. Plenty of dams though and they were mostly full in this, the dry season. Yes, I was definitely home.

congress

The keynote address at the first day of the International Horticultural Congress in Brisbane

The International Society of Horticultural Science holds a International Congress every 4 years in a different country.

This year it was in Brisbane, Australia and I decided it was time to go and see just where horticulture was going. It was impressively well organized in the modern conference centre on the south bank of the Brisbane River. More than 3000 delegates attended over the 5 days that it was run and the range of topics covered by the symposia necessitated a fair degree of choosiness. Presentations varied from excellent to hopelessly technical with a few mediocre thrown in for good measure. While I didn’t find anything directly relevant to my business it was worthwhile and my curiosity was well satisfied (or more precisely – saturated) by the end. The final dinner was a festive affair with a good band, dancers, magician and plenty to eat and drink. Rather depressingly I found myself to be of the average age – where was the future of horticulture which as one of the keynote speakers pointed out will be the future of feeding the world (horticulture is defined as being intensive agriculture)?

After the congress it was time to catch up with friends – some of whom I hadn’t seen for 25 years when I was last in Australia, doing the backpacker “thing”. I made some last minute changes to the itinerary and needing to book a flight to Canberra from Sydney I pulled out the smart phone in Brisbane airport and 3 hours later in Sydney got onto the plane to Canberra. Australia works. First world (not sure why I was expecting anything else but it really works). Of course first world functionality comes at a first world price and my friend Peter whom I visited in Orange (also in NSW) told me that Australia is now officially the world’s 4th most expensive country to live in. I can believe it. A small (by Harare standards) 3 bedroom house in Orange will go for some 5-600,000 Aus dollars and the gardens are miniscule! A meal for 3 of us at a good restaurant, though certainly unexceptional, in Brisbane cost $160 without alcohol. It would have been about $75 in Harare. It’s all to do with high labour costs I am told. That and the vast mining industry that powers the Australian economy.

Pasture land around Orange

Pasture land around Orange

That is not to say that agriculture is insignificant either. Australia has some 13 million ha of wheat production, mostly for export. Zimbabwe was once self sufficient in wheat and exported maize. Now we import both. Unlike Australia where most extensive agriculture is going the corporate farming route with vast tracts of land being farmed, Zimbabwe is heavily reliant on the small scale producers. The mostly white commercial farmers were kicked off their land in the early 2000s – hence the idle dams and land that I saw coming into Harare. In Australia most extensive agriculture relies on rain whereas in Zimbabwe irrigation is essential, especially for winter/dry season production.

canola fields

Canola (oilseed rape) near Orange, NSW

Oilseed rape (Canola) was abundant in the short trip we did around Orange, again mostly farmed by corporate organisations. This is not a crop we grow in Zimbabwe and unlike Zimbabwe, most states in Australia have embraced GMO crops. With labour costs that high GM farming is very attractive (most of the GM crops we saw were of the Roundup Ready┬« variety – i.e. weeds can be controlled by herbicide sprayed over the crop but the crop is unaffected). GMOs are banned in Zimbabwe though I know that they are imported illegally from South Africa where they are commonly grown.

Back in Queensland with another friend also called Peter we did the rounds of the farming area. The soil is much more fertile in the Darling Downs region than in most of Australia and it is used to the maximum. Again, mostly without irrigation and the maximum use of mechanization to keep labour costs down.

A few people at the congress in Brisbane asked me how many staff I employed. 14 labourers, 2 foremen and 8 contract labour. They looked stunned especially when I explained the size of the nursery. A nursery of similar size in Australia would employ perhaps 4 people. We are still third world here.

Being driven back home from the airport I couldn’t help but compare the filth of the Harare streets with the immaculate ones of Brisbane. BrizVegas, as the locals like to call it, is spotless. Like any modern, first world city, there is also lots to do there. There are two art galleries, a library that offers evening courses in, amongst other things, film making and of course lots of shows that are booked out months in advance. We don’t get much in the way of quality international entertainment here in Harare except perhaps for HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) once a year and it’s relatively easy to get tickets there.

Brisbane from the river - there's real money here!

Brisbane from the river – there’s real money here!

BrisVegas from the south bank of the Brisbane River

BrisVegas from the south bank of the Brisbane River

A sculpture at the Gallery of Modern Art. I got this one, a lot was less comprehensible.

A sculpture at the Gallery of Modern Art. I got this one, a lot was less comprehensible.

Back home the dogs were ecstatic, the lawn was dead from lack of water (it regrows in the rains), there was dust everywhere and the nursery was just fine. It had been good to get a perspective on the real world out there but it was also great to be home.

 





Relics – an old tractor and the CFU

13 02 2013

Agriculture House is situated on Marlborough Drive in the suburb of the same name on the north-west of Harare. It was once the home of the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU), the union that in its day represented the majority of commercial farmers in Zimbabwe. It was a powerful organisation that was a thorn in the side of the government for many years. But that was a long time ago and today my footsteps echoed in the large, silent entrance hall where I’d come on anything but agricultural business. I walked around the tractor on the plinth and up the stairs to a long, dark corridor.

Yes, that is 1917 on the front of this old Fordson tractor!

Yes, that is 1917 on the front of this old Fordson tractor!

Finding the door I needed I knocked and entered. I’d come to collect a tripod mount that I’d ordered from the UK through a small company based in the building. I got chatting to the woman who’d served me. It seemed that the CFU had sold the building some months previously and now it was now administered by a government company that let out offices to anyone who had need of them. This was not a new development – the CFU had the same practice when it was there but it had been busy and bustling then.

Once the farm invasions had started the CFU membership dried up and it became a relic of its former glory. I’d been a member through my company but got fed-up with the lack of service and did not bother to renew my membership some 8 years ago. At one stage it had a very good technology section that in itself made membership worthwhile but when I phoned the Agricultural Labour Bureau up with a labour problem and was referred to the National Employment Council (a refereeing body between employer and employee) I realized it was time to go.

Walking out of the sprawling complex I wondered why the tractor had not been taken. It has 1917 on the front so it might be worth something. Now it was also just a relic of a bygone era when Zimbabwe’s agriculture industry had held the region’s respect for its farming skills and exports.





The definition of poverty

29 08 2012

The definition of poverty varies from country to country. I have heard figures ranging from $1.25 to $3.00. The minimum wage for horticulture in Zimbabwe is $70 a month plus another $77 in allowances if the person lives off the property and has to use public transport to work (this does vary quite a bit). Of course you can pay more if you feel like it and there are stipulated job definitions and grades too. Agriculture uses a 26 working day month which means that my labour force earns around $5.65 a day so is well clear of the poverty line. This strikes me as unnecessarily complicated. I think the definition should be; can they afford to have and operate a cell phone?