By Richard Chidowore
As no late rains will improve the current drought conditions, the countries in southern Africa have been trying to maximize transport efficiency to prevent famine. All hopes lie in their ports, roads and railroads.

The 10 Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) countries and South Africa need to import more than 11,6 million tonnes of their staple food, maize, by the end of the! year. “Other commodities which are normally grown locally, such as sugar, beans and oilseeds, now also have to be imported,” writes David Zausmer, managing director of Beira Corridor Group (BCG) Limited, in a paper entitled “Maximizing Transport Efficiency”.

Zausmer adds that all regional port, rail and road systems must now be fully utilized to import huge quantities of agricultural commodities. Most of the maize is being exported from the United States, Argentina and Brazil and to a lesser extent, Mexico. South Africa, which exported 100,000 tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe at the beginning of the year is now also importing from overseas.

The amount of imports is about four times the normal amount distributed over the transport networks, and relief officials say moving the food to where it is needed is the greatest problem they face. The S’ADCC states have not taken the challenge lying down. In their Ministerial Mee1ing on Drought in Lusaka, Zambia on 15 and 16 April, the leaders endorsed the proposal for the formation of a task force to coordinate procurement, movement and distribution of cereals through six port corridors.

The corridor groups are Northern, starting at Dar es Salaam, and serving Tanzania, Zambia, Zaire and Malawi. Eastern 1, beginning at Nacala and serving Mozambique Malawi and Zambia. Eastern 2, starting at Maputo and Beira and serving Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa and Zaire.

The Southern corridor comprising South Africa’s Spoomet and Portnet rail and port systems, plus attendant road routes serves the entire sub-region. Western 1 is a combination of rail and road from Walvis Bay on the Atlantic which serves Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zaire. The role of the corridors will hopefully dispel the fears of aid agencies in that they will enable food to be imported without disrupting existing traffic flows.

The recent UN-sponsored Drought Conference held in Geneva pledged USS526 million for the procurement, transportation and distribution of food to alleviate drought in the region. This will go a long way in accomplishing SADCC objectives of combating the effects of drought.

Spoomet, the South African rail authority, is sending four trains a day each carrying 700 tonnes to countries in the north from all ports. Ministry of Transport officials in Zimbabwe agree that Spoomet is meeting its target.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe seems to be coping with the moving of maize from the South African ports of Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London. Additional trains and trucks arrive regularly from Beira and Maputo in Mozambique.

However there have been hitches in distributing maize within Zimbabwe because of an inadequate transport fleet. The motor industry is going through a serious downturn and the industry could grind to a standstill unless government places spare parts on Open General Import Licence (OGIL), argues sources in the industry.

The Grain Marketing Board (GMB), which is responsible for transporting maize to different parts of the country, has contracted two transport companies, cargo C-carriers and Zimbabwe Ov.11er Driver Organization (Zodo) to move grains from South Africa and Mozambique respectively.

The transporters have in tum sub-contracted more than 100 trucks each to ferry food to Zimbabwe. According to Share Jiriyengwa of the GMB, road traffic is flexible because transport coordination has been decentralised and maize trucks arriving in the country are diverted to different centres like Chivi, Mberengwa, and Masvingo without first getting to Harare.

The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), has placed emphasis on the quick movement of maize from Mozambican and South African ports into the country. This is after government ordered the NRZ to give preference to the movement of the much needed maize.

Apart from its need for maize, Zimbabwe is the gateway to other countries like Zambia, Malawi and Zaire which need the vital cereals.

In Mozambique internal transport logistics pose massive problems related to security. The Mozambique National Resistance (MNR) and other bandits have been attacking food convoys and robbing them of food meant for drought relief.

Malawi’s maize import requirements for 1992-93 are estimated at between 400,000 and 500,000 tonnes. This is for more than 3 million Malawians and one million Mozambican refugees who require food aid. Apart from food trucks coming through Zimbabwe, the Malawians could use the port of Nacala in Mozambique which has a capacity of 1 million tonnes.

The problem facing the nation is organising road transport from the end of rehabilitated line to the border at Intralagos where it could be reloaded on Malawi railways.

Zambia’s internal logistical and institutional capacity for handling rural grain movements is low and weak. President Fredrick Chiluba has appealed to the United Kingdom and the United States for US$300 million worth of short term food aid.

Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia are adequately served by the South African ports.

Another example of what regional cooperation can achieve. With this continued closer coordination, Southern Africa can prevent the effects of the worst drought to hit the region in living memory. (SARDC)

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