Zimbabwe: China props up Mugabe with US$200m fertilizer deal

By Wayne Mafaro

HARARE - China has provided a US$200 million facility for the supply of fertilizer to Zimbabwe to help revive agriculture and end hunger stalking more than a third of the country's 12 million people, according to Industry and International Trade Minister Obert Mpofu.

Mpofu told a Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) meeting in Harare on Wednesday that the facility would be solely funded by Beijing with the cash-strapped Harare not contributing a single cent.

But the Industry Minister did not disclose the finer details of the fertilizer facility, when exactly the money would be made available or how the Chinese hoped to recoup their money.

"The Chinese government has arranged a US$200 million fertilizer facility for us. We are not paying from our own funds. It is a facility made available to us and there is nothing wrong with that," said Mpofu.

Zimbabwe has grappled severe food shortages over the past seven years, worsened by a deep economic recession seen in the world's highest inflation of more than 4 500 percent, rising unemployment and poverty.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) earlier this month said more than four million Zimbabweans would face serious food shortages by early next year.

The UN agencies blamed the food shortages on crop failure which they attributed to poor rainfall, government controls on prices of farm products and a lack of availability of key inputs such as fertilizer.

Several business executives attending the CZI meeting however expressed little hope the Chinese deal would ensure availability of fertilizer for farmers saying deals with Beijing had yielded nothing in the past.

"We have heard this before with promises that the Chinese were coming to finance electricity generation or mining but nothing came out of it," said an executive with a leading Harare commercial bank who declined to be named.

Another executive with one of Zimbabwe's biggest food manufacturers criticized the fertilizer facility saying it provided for the importation of fertilizer from China at the expense of local manufacturers.

"It is of no benefit for the government to import fertilizer from China at the expense of local companies. It is better to channel foreign currency towards resuscitation of local companies. Let us make our own fertilizer," said the executive.

Mugabe has over the past seven years pursued a Look-East policy aimed at strengthening relations with China and other Asian economies since falling out with the West who accuse his government of abusing human rights, stealing elections and failure to uphold the rule of law.