Food for thought

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An official report shows that just four of the 29 grain silos at Lions’ Den are usable after years of neglect. Most of the unusable ones are cracked and crumbling inside and out.

The depot was built in the 1970s and silos of this type need re-lining and re-sealing after about 15-20 years to protect the contents from damp, rot and pests for many years afterwards. The new report says engineers found cracks and holes at the top, known as the apex, of many of the giant structures. Aeriation fans and fire protection devices and extinguishers were long broken down and had expired without renewal well past their use-by date.

Lions’ Den was ranked the biggest grain storage facility in southern Africa, and the world’s third largest in the 1970s after grain depots built in Egypt and Australia.

Late last year, auditor general Mildred Chiri reported to parliament all 12 grain silo complexes dotted across farming areas were in urgent need of repair. All the 14 bins at Karoi had multiple cracks allowing water to seep in and for the base foundations to become water-logged. Some were only still standing because they remained empty, she said.

She said from their physical appearance most of our silos still look impressive when in fact many – stretching from Chegutu to Chiweshe to Mrewa to Concession to Mukwichi to Aspindale – have become unsuitable to store grain, even for animal consumption. Chiri reckoned $50 million is required to refurbish silos that haven’t been properly looked after since the late 1990s when Zimbabwe produced a grain surplus.

Lions’ Den was designed to store 104,000 tons of grain and can now hold less than 20,000 tons. The silos countrywide could once accommodate strategic reserves of 500,000 tons.

Zimbabwe doesn’t grow enough food to feed itself, lives from hand to mouth and doesn’t have strategic grain reserves any longer, so what’s the problem?

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