Will the road network cope with grain movement?

Conrad Mwanawashe Bumper Harvest
IN the last few months I had the privilege of travelling to different parts of the country starting with the Eastern Highlands, Manicaland and Mashonaland East and was struck by the deplorable state Zimbabwe’s roads are in. From the tea estates in the Eastern Highlands in Honde Valley up to Aberfoyle and Kariba we had to negotiate the potholes. On the dust road around the tea estates, we literally had to park and survey the road first.

Only last week I was in Kariba and noticed that the Harare-Chirundu highway requires attention. At some point vehicles had to literally give way to those coming from the opposite direction because parts of the road developed craters.

Ironically some of the potholes are developing just before or just after the tollgate along the highway.

In simple terms, just before or after you part with between $2 and $10 depending on the size of your vehicle, you must negotiate potholes.

Sadly, it is not only the Chirundu –Beitbridge highway and the tea estates roads that are in a deplorable state but such is the state of the country’s road network that it has become a major cause for concern.

This is worrying particularly as the country draws closer to the harvest of grain on farms.

How prepared is the country’s road network and general transport system to carry the heavy influx of vehicles, particularly heavy vehicles, haulage trucks into the farming districts in the next few months to collect grain?

Will the road network not give in and the country ends up with grain stuck on the farms?

In the same vein, what is the function of the Zimbabwe National Road Administration when the country’s roads are wearing off at such speed?

Zinara is the authority tasked with fixing road user charges and to collect such charges or any other revenue of the Road Fund, in consultation with the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development and the Minister of Finance and Economic Development.

Some of its functions include assisting the minister in setting maintenance, design, construction and technical standard and to monitor adherence to such standards by Road Authorities and to allocate and disburse to road authorities funds from the Road Fund in accordance with rules prescribed by the Road Administration.

Also, to audit the use of funds from the Road Fund by the authorities and to ensure that disbursed funds are utilised for the purpose for which they are intended and in accordance with rules prescribed by the Road Administration and to monitor implementation of road maintenance works by Road Authorities.

The authority assists Road Authorities in making annual or multi-year road maintenance rolling plans. According to Zinara, most of the country’s roads are more than 30 years and require complete rehabilitation works.

Zimbabwe has a total road network of 87 654km made up of state highways — 18 460km, urban roads — 8 194km and rural roads — 61 000km. Is Zinara monitoring adherence to road standards for local authorities?

This is where Zinara becomes a critical player in the movement of goods from areas of production to market centres and value addition and beneficiation centres.

So critical is the road administration to the economy that something must be done and urgently.

With the anticipated bumper harvest championed by Government’s Command Agriculture programme, transport becomes a vital service to producers if their goods are to be competitive at the market. This is where the $500 million Command Agriculture dovetails with the Utete Report.

Command Agriculture which is set to be extended to include other crops and livestock from the next season 2017/18, will place more demand on the road network as it is leading to increased grain production. Increased grain production means increased road network usage for moving grain to markets.

Also, in the following seasons, Command Agriculture will target more land for grain production, therefore movement of agricultural mechanical equipment will put more pressure on the road network.

The success of Command Agriculture in its first season will see more farmers signing up in coming seasons, meaning that increased inputs demand and this adds pressure to the road system.

Zimbabwe should take a comprehensive assessment of the transport system and the road network to ensure that it is up to standard.

Last week Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa talked about another agricultural programme called Super Agriculture that he said will put swathes of idle land countrywide under crops.

Super Agriculture will be implemented under the Command Agriculture programme and will see the establishment of dryers, mills and silos at central locations countrywide. But again, the road network will have to carry the load to the centres where the dryers, silos and mills will be situated.

More pressure on the transport system could come from the winter wheat programme where Government has already secured funding for about 50 000 hectares of land.

These programmes will see increased activities in the farming areas, the rural areas and rural business centres.

There will be a huge influx of various dealers and investors as economic activity improves in these centres, hence, the need for a comprehensive transport system consideration.

The provision of a safe reliable road network cannot be overemphasised. Furthermore, with the anticipated increased agricultural activity, there is need to urgently capacitate the National Railways of Zimbabwe so that it could carry most of the load.

The resuscitation of the NRZ will reduce pressure from the road network as it is a bulk carrier.

There is an opportunity to consider Private Public Partnerships to in developing the transport system.

The NRZ is currently in a capital raising exercise both locally and offshore as it seeks to secure about $400 million required for retooling.

The funds are expected to boost the rail company’s locomotives, wagons, track rehabilitation and signalling.

NRZ is in dire need of short-term recapitalisation to boost its carrying capacity which has plummeted to around 3,4 million tonnes in 2015 from a high of 9,4 million tonnes in 2000. The rail company has 168 locomotives, of which only 38 percent — are currently serviceable. Only about 48 percent of the 7 255 wagons are operational.

The railways carrier should be urgently capacitated as it is a key player in the movement of inputs and grain around the country.

This calls for a comprehensive transport system and road network overhaul.

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