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Another Blow To Zimbabwe Agriculture As Fertilizer Plants Shut Down

Zimbabwe's next harvest is in jeopard following the closures of three state-controlled companies which produce fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals under economic pressure that intensified in recent weeks by government-imposed prices.

Managers of Dorowa, Iron Duke and Zimphos, subsidiaries of the Chemplex Corp., a state holding company, cited general financial problems including a lack of foreign exchange to buy raw materials and continual, lengthy electric power cuts.

One reason for the disappointing maize harvest in the 2005-2006 crop year was a widespread shortage of fertilizers and even at times of maize seed.

Their closure stands to aggravate water shortages in major cities, as the Zimbabwe National Water Authority relies upon them for water purification chemicals.

Chemplex Chief Executive Eben Makonese told the government-controlled Herald newspaper that workers have been sent on forced leave because of a lack of raw materials and constant power cuts.

The companies were obliged to sell fertilizer at a fifth of production costs under the government price-slashing operation, with 50 kilograms going for Z$88,000 (less than US$0.50) while the packaging alone was costing Z$79,000, piling up losses.

Illustrating the level of of disfunction in the administration, a senior Agriculture Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told VOA that the ministry only learned of the closures when the news was published in the Herald on Monday.

However, the official stopp0ed short of flinging blame on Trade Minister Obert Mpofu, chairman of the government task force that launched the price rollback dubbed “Operation Dzikisai Mitengo” Shona for “Operation Reduce Prices.”

Most plastic manufacturers have either closed shop or are operating well under their output capacity. Many dry cleaners have also closed for lack of cleaning fluid.

The government recently modified its policy and started revising comomodities prices upward again after realizing that the cuts were causing severe shortages.

But Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce President Marah Hativagone told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while such corrective moves were welcome, they might not be enough to undo the damage done.

Meanwhile, Mangwe member of parliament Edward Mkhosi, who sits on the committee for lands and agriculture, told reporter Brenda Moyo that the fertilizer plant closures spell doom for a country that is already facing critical food shortages.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...