George Maponga Masvingo Bureau
The US$40 million Kilimanjaro sugar cane project in the Lowveld has received a major boost after Government released a letter of undertaking to protect the investment.
The venture, a partnership between South Africa-based Tongaat Hulett and local financial institutions, will create thousands of jobs and bring in more foreign currency.
It dovetails with Government’s thrust to create an upper middle income economy by 2030.
Tongaat is spearheading the sugar cane project at Hippo Valley Estates where over 3 300 hectares of virgin land are being turned into cane fields with funding from CBZ, CABS, ZB Bank and FBC.
The financial institutions are expected to recoup their investments within five years, with Tongaat expected to manage farming operations until indigenous out-growers repay their loans.
Only 420 hectares of the over 2 700ha of virgin land that have been cleared are being utilised, as the project financiers had not yet injected funding.
Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs Ezra Chadzamira said Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Water and Rural Resettlement had since availed the letter of undertaking, paving the way for banks to release funds for Kilimanjaro.
He said the project was going according to plan and thanked Government for guaranteeing the project through a letter of security.
“This is a clear sign that Government is serious about investment, which is key in creating jobs, growing our economy and empowering our people,” said Minister Chadzamira.
“We are happy with progress in the project.”
Minister Chadzamira’s statement was corroborated by Tongaat managing director Mr Aiden Mhere, who said the financial institutions had already started releasing funding.
“We want to also pay tribute to Minister Chadzamira who worked to make sure the letter of undertaking is there,” said Mr Mhere.
He said while the economic climate remained hostile, he was optimistic that timelines for the project would be met.
“The most important thing is that banks have started releasing the money and I must say we have already done a great deal of work with 2 700ha cleared, leaving a balance of 600ha and around 420ha thereabouts planted so far,” said Mr Mhere.
“I think we are in good steady to meet our deadline for completion around September to November this year.”
The Kilimanjaro project was officially launched by President Mnangagwa in November last year.
The country consumes a conservative 300 000 tonnes of sugar annually meaning the surplus will be destined for the lucrative export market earning the country the much-needed foreign currency.