By Ndafadza Madanha
THE country’s largest edible oil manufacturer Surface Wilmar is set to invest $30m into contacting farming as it seeks to secure raw materials and ramp up production.
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a shortage of basic commodities that include cooking oil and bread attributable to the unavailability of foreign currency to import key materials such as soya beans and wheat.
Currently capacity utilization for packed cooking oil at the Surface Wilmar plant sits at 26% against installed capacity of 14 000 mt a month. That of soya meal is 8% against capacity of 10 000mt a month while cotton meal is 11% of installed capacity of 10 000mt a month.
Speaking during a plant tour in Chitungwiza yesterday by Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube, CEO Surface Wilmar Sylvester Mangani said his organization was looking at growing 20 000 hectares of soya-bean within the next 12 months.
“We are targeting to grow about 20 000 hectares in the next 12 months and we have already contracted 100 farmers to grow soya beans. In the next five years we are looking at doing 100 000 hectares and we have committed about $30 million to the project and bring in about 500 center pivots, however , the delay in allocation of foreign currency by the central bank was causing delay”.
Between 2000 and 2015 production of the crop has declined from 135 415 metric tonnes to 41 768mt.
Mangani said in the first year of the project the country will save about US$52 million used to import oil, soya beans/ soya meal and wheat.
He said once the plant hits full capacity utilization it had the potential to meet the cooking oil requirements for Zambia, Malawi and Botswana.
Turning to Olivine Industries in which Surface Wilmar has a 65% shareholding alongside the ministry of Finance and Economic development with 35% Mangani said capacity utilization was affected by lack of foreign currency and raw materials.
He said government should also honor its commitment to inject $3.3million into Olivine as a means of removing shareholder loans from the balance sheet to reduce interest charges.
In response Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube commended Surface Wilmar for investing in the out-grower schemes and said government will do everything to support the projects as they substantially reduce demand foreign currency on the central bank.
He said the factory which is fully automated had the potential to be a regional hub for edible oil
Ncube said in respect of Olivine Industries the entity could secure funds under the $250m Germcorp facility.