National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) locomotives used to cart hundreds of refrigerated wagons laden with all beef grades destined for the export market, and indeed the local rail company thrived on the operations of the Cold Storage Company (CSC).
The workers were happy, while farmers and companies along the value chains marvelled as millions of dollars wired into the country in the form of CSC payments, part of which also ended up in their pockets.
However, for over two decades now, the tale of CSC has been that of a basket case and significant efforts have been made to revive it to no avail.
As part of parastatal reforms, it is now a perfect candidate for sale.
The announcement that Boustead Beef (Pvt) is set to invest in the asset is welcome news , and we hope the proposed deal, which will see it investing US$130 million into the meat processing firm, will materialise.
The belief is that Boustead has the capacity, which justifies our optimism.
The revival of CSC is long overdue.
But according to the letter, it will raise and invest a minimum of US$130 million into CSC over five years and the money will be used for capital expenditure and working capital for the business.
Boustead will also take over and manage CSC ranches in Maphaneni, Dubane, Umguza, Chivumbuni, Mushandike, Willsgrove and Darwendale for an initial period of 25 years.
The UK-based firm will also run CSC abattoirs in Bulawayo, Chinhoyi, Masvingo, Marondera and Kadoma for an initial period of 25 years.
It will also take over and manage CSC’s distribution centres and residential properties in Harare, Gweru and Mutare for the same period.
As this happens, we understand the foreboding of Zimbabweans, as they scrutinise what is on the table.
The bigger picture, though, is that President Mnangagwa’s “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” mantra has charmed many investors the world over and when they come, it will be foolhardy to start shifting goalposts in a manner that discourages them and other potential investors.
The country, through our technocrats, should simply do due diligence to ensure the country and the citizens are not shortchanged by the deals and make them sail.
We want Zimbabweans to benefit through employment and Government through royalties, corporate tax, and value chains, among others.
While mobilising support during the 2018 watershed harmonised elections that he won resoundingly, President Mnangagwa promised farmers that his Government was going to resuscitate CSC plants in Marondera, Masvingo, Chinhoyi and Bulawayo and indeed he has started fulfilling his pledges.
The President said the new business model being pursued for CSC was going to benefit even the newly-resettled and communal farmers who were going to be major suppliers of feedstock to the plants for value addition and beneficiation before distribution in both local and export markets.
However, what remains central to the deal is that if the local farmers are to be suppliers of beef cattle to CSC, there are some cardinal matters they need to fulfil and these are quality and disease-free cattle.
The Government of Zimbabwe has never been found wanting when it comes to economically empowering its people and the President is spot on that his Government will assist the rural farmers breed high quality animals in preparation for the opening and operation of CSC full-throttle.
Therefore, the coming in of this investor is a welcome development not only by Government, companies to benefit from the value chains, but also some villagers and farmers that are going to supply feedstock to the beef processing company.
So when things start happening for the agriculture sector, it’s our clarion call that the Department of Veterinary Services in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement should activate its systems and ensure the villagers can also breed healthy and quality cattle to feed into the system.
Measures to curb disease outbreaks such as proper diptanks, routine animal vaccinations and zoning system to stop the movement of animals to restricted areas are put in place to ensure cattle are not condemned.
We see the coming in of the CSC deal as opening up new frontiers for many businesses in Zimbabwe and we therefore call upon all stakeholders in this sector to play ball and for Government not to be persuaded to abandon its entrepreneurs.