“Capital used to flee from Zimbabwe, and now we need competition”

Billionaire Uralchem chairman Dmitry Mazepin might be rich, but he doesn't have a suit with his own face on it like Emmerson Mnangagwa

The forlorn Zimbabwean farming sector could be helped by a new fertiliser deal signalling a more welcoming approach from Robert Mugabe’s successor.

Russian fertiliser producer Uralchem said this week it would consider taking over internal distribution of mineral fertilisers in Zimbabwe and Zambia, while also pushing imports to the region up from 100,000 tonnes per annum to 500,000-600,000tpa.

No timeline was given, but Uralchem chairman Dmitry Mazepin met both countries’ leaders this week to get top-level support.

Zambian president Edgar Lungu said his government wanted to “commence our cooperation as soon as possible”.

Former Mugabe vice president and now Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa said the welcome mat was now out for investors.

“The country is now opening for business, Russian included,” he said.

“In the last 16-17 years, we have been isolated due to the Western sanctions, but now the economy is entering a period of growth.

“Capital used to flee from Zimbabwe, and now we need competition.”

In 2017, Uralchem produced a total of 6.3 million tonnes of fertiliser products, including 2.9Mt of ammonium nitrate.

Zimbabwe was referred to as the ‘bread basket’ of Africa before government policies saw major drops in agricultural production, turning the country into a net food importer.

According to the Uralchem, farmers in the two countries pay around US$500 per tonne for fertiliser, and this deal would see the Russian company import and sell direct to end-users, at a price closer to the shipping cost of $300/t.

Mazepin said cutting out layers of fertiliser supply would help farmers (although presumably not the traders).

“In the southwest and southeast of Africa, there have historically been traders who purchase fertilisers in ports and take it to the countries that lack access to the sea, providing services for chemical products logistics and storage,” he said.

“At our meeting with the president of Zimbabwe, we were invited to participate in the fertiliser supply as well as in the mining projects in the country.

“Certainly, we are interested … when we get guarantees of stable business development at such high level, it is very important to us.”