George Maponga in Masvingo
THE US$40 million Kilimanjaro Sugar Cane project being developed by Tongaat Huletts Zimbabwe (THZ) in Chiredzi is a game changer in sugar cane production.
Dubbed “Kilimanjaro”, the project will develop virgin land into sugar cane plantations at Triangle and Hippo Valley estates in Chiredzi as part of the firm’s drive to increase aggregate sugar output while also empowering indigenous outgrower farmers who will be allocated plots on the nearly 3 300 hectares being developed on a cost recovery basis.
The project has already generated a lot of interest within Masvingo and beyond owing to its vast capacity to stimulate socio-economic development while also serving as confirmation of THZ’s long-term commitment to Zimbabwe.
It is also expected to epitomise the Second Republic’s readiness to embrace investment under a win-win scenario.
President Mnangagwa is this Saturday expected to launch the project.
Tongaat’s investment bears testimony of the success of Government’s ongoing thrust to grow the economy by creating a conducive environment for investment to create jobs and expand the country’s Gross Domestic Product in line with President Mnangagwa’s vision to make Zimbabwe an upper middle income economy by 2030.
President Mnangagwa has repeatedly called for both domestic and foreign investors to take advantage of opportunities in the country under his Zimbabwe is open for business mantra.
Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Ezra Chadzamira who toured the area on Monday believes that the project has the capacity to transform the landscape of the province.
“We are very delighted as Masvingo Province that his Excellency the President of Zimbabwe Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa will be in Chiredzi for the ground-breaking ceremony of the Kilimanjaro Project,” he said.
“This is a very important moment for us as a province as we will be witnessing the official launch of a project that will give us more jobs, revenue and empowerment to the sons and daughters of Zimbabwe.”
In July this year, THZ executive in charge of Project Kilimanjaro Mr Ushe Chinhuru said the sugar producer hoped to create an additional 2 000 direct and downstream jobs consolidating Tongaat’s position as arguably the largest single employer in Zimbabwe.
Tongaat employs close to 20 000 permanent and contract employees at its cane operations in Hippo Valley and Triangle estates.
He said the project was expected to be commissioned by September next year when new planted cane fields will be handed to Government. Work on the project started on April 3 this year. “$300 million will be invested in the project. The project commenced in April 2019 and is scheduled for completion by September 30, 2020,” said Mr Chinhuru in July in response to questions from The Herald.
Mr Chinhuru said the project was expected to further lure investment to the Lowveld through opening of agriculture support industries, among other entities.
“On completion the project will be handed over to Government. An additional 50 000 tonnes of sugar per annum will be produced.
“Commercial banks are funding the project on a full cost recovery basis.
“Some 2 000 direct jobs will be created by the project and downstream activities, increased exports to generate at least US$18m in foreign currency for the country. Other economic benefits include investment opportunities for related industries that include suppliers of agro-inputs, transport services etc,” he said.
During the same month acting THZ managing director Mr Aiden Mhere told members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy Development that the project was going to be completed as per schedule.
“We have an ongoing new sugarcane establishment project dubbed the Kilimanjaro Project in which we are assisting the Government to develop 3 262ha of new cane,” he said.
“We have 17 contracted companies which are doing the clearance works, canal developments, cane establishment among others works.”
He said his company was pushing for maximum capacity utilisation as operations were currently averaging 75 percent of full capacity.
“We have about 879 out-grower sugarcane farmers here in Chiredzi and we hope that by the end of Kilimanjaro Project by September 30, 2020 we would have influenced the increase of out-grower farmers to 1000,” he said.
Mr Mhere said the expansion of the sugar industry was now backed by Tugwi-Mukorsi Dam which could supplement perennial waters supplies even during a period of drought.
The completion of the project will see the company scaling up its exports.
“Given the circumstance we are pushing for the industry to increase the production capacity per unit area as we target to produce 600 000 tonnes of sugar per annum.
“We need to unlock new export markets and currently we have 350 000 tonnes of sugar for local consumption while our target is exporting 100 000 tonnes to Kenya, 30 000 tonnes to Botswana, 10 000 tonnes to South Africa, 30 000 to 100 000 tonnes to the DRC and 17 000tonnes to the United States of America.”
Zimbabwe produces about consumes about 300 000 tonnes of sugar annually and after completion of Project Kilimanjaro sugar output is expected to surpass 500 000 tonnes a feat set to be achieved over the next two years.
The expanded sugar output will see forex receipts jumping from around US$65 million at the moment to almost US$90 million.
Ethanol output is also set to increase raising the scope for fuel blending which in turn will see the nation making critical foreign currency saving on fuel imports.