After the most challenging decade for the country’s agricultural sector, an industry which once set the standard not only in Africa but the world over, the green shoots of recovery are finally beginning to emerge from the lush soil of Zimbabwe. Agriculture still stands as the main pillar of the national economy of Zimbabwe. Remarkably, even after the collapse in agricultural production between 2000-2010, tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane contribute at least 30% of Zimbabwe’s national GDP and provide the still fragile economy with an invaluable flow of foreign currency.
As recovery continues after the devastating drought of 2015, the country’s fertiliser industry will play a no-less important role in the ongoing revival of Zimbabwe’s signature industry. Home-grown fertiliser producers and distributors like Ferts, Seed, & Grain are committed to restoring the country’s farming sector back to its rightful state, and empowering the small independent farmers it serves, who have worked tirelessly to increase crop production to a level matching those of the sprawling commercial farms that once dominated the industry.
Established in 2010 as a small-scale importer of finished fertilisers, Ferts, Seed, & Grain (FSG) has undergone great change over its six-year lifetime. Once a local distributor of fertiliser products for Malawi-headquartered agribusiness, Meridian Group, FSG now stands as one of the industry leaders in Zimbabwe, and as a leading manufacturer of fertiliser in its own right. It is a Zimbabwean company through-and-through, committed to proving excellent service and high-quality products to its customers.
Steve Morland, FSG’s Managing Director, told Endeavour: “FSG started off as an importer of finished fertilisers into Zimbabwe. In 2013 we moved on to purchase a large property, formerly a cotton factory, in Bindura, and in 2014 went on to erect a small bulk blending plant which allowed us to blend our own fertilisers. This year we have built a much larger blending plant, and also began commissioning our own granulator. These latest developments enable us to manufacture up to 700 tons of fertiliser per day, as well as producing a number of different blends simultaneously. He continued: “We currently cater for the entire Zimbabwean market’s needs, which includes sugar cane production for sugar and ethanol, large and small tobacco companies, government programmes, cotton production, commercial farmers of maize, wheat and soya, and small-scale farmers through a widely established third-party retail. Besides our fertilizer business, FSG are also involved in grain trading and supporting a number of contract growers. In some cases, we combine these two disciplines to swap inputs for maize outputs with the farmer.”
Needless to say, business is booming. Demand for FSG’s fertiliser, the Superfert fertiliser brand, has increased at an impressive rate both on its retail and commercial arms, whilst its retail tobacco sales alone have increased by almost 90% year-onyear since 2015. With growth rates forecast to keep rising over the coming years, these are exciting times for the company, along with its competitors and indeed the wider industry.
FSG’s success is, in part, thanks to an intervention on the part of the Zimbabwean government, who have shown strong commitment to the development of agriculture and making the country self-sustainable in food production. This window of opportunity presented itself two years ago with the legislation that NPK fertilisers could no longer be imported as finished products and, instead, had to be manufactured locally. The aim of this legislation was to build a thriving domestic industry, Zimbabwean owned and run. With the stroke of a pen, the historical dominance of the traditional industry monopoly was broken, and as a result of this legislation FSG’s path to success was cleared. “We took this as an opportunity to set up our production facility, establish ourselves with a large number of retail outlets across the country, and also embarked on a very serious grass-roots marketing campaign. During this period, we focused on giving prospective customers the opportunity to use our products, and after farmers started getting excellent results with Superfert, word of mouth spread and the brand gained popularity. 2016 has become our best year yet, we are extremely happy and encouraged by our sales figures to date.”
With the support and resources of the Meridian Group to call upon, FSG was comfortably able to meet the surge in volume demand for the raw materials required to manufacture its fertilisers and capture market share. Importantly, it was able to do so cost effectively. This isn’t to say that FSG has rested on its laurels; the company has invested in the facilities to hold up to 20,000 metric tons of stock, and implemented processes so it can be placed on the ground where it is needed ahead of demand. Then, there are the advantages that come with operating the most modern fertiliser production facility in Zimbabwe, which in Steve’s words “is also the most cost efficient as far as operational costs are concerned, and which therefore gives us a competitive advantage on the price we can offer to customers.”
Another string to the bow of FSG is its employees, many of whom have been with the company since it opened its doors for business. In a country with an agricultural heritage as prestigious as that of Zimbabwe’s – one that accounts for over 66% of national employment, there is a strong pool of talent to pick from for businesses operating in the sector. Within its ranks, FSG’s 60 permanent staff and its 200 seasonal workers have an intimate knowledge of both the country and the industry, thanks to the experience gained from years of working in agriculture.
On this, Morland told Endeavour: “It has always been our policy to promote from within so we have a team that has moved through the ranks and been around from the very start. It is a very tight group of people that run FSG in Harare; a hugely committed and motivated team who are driven further by the great results the company has had over the years.
Our entire factory staff complement has been trained from the very beginning by specialists who we brought in specifically for this task. We have developed a full agronomy team, all of whom started with us while still completing their formal training and studies. We continually encourage our staff to attend training courses and seminars as these opportunities arise.”
All-in-all, it is difficult to imagine a position better for a company like FSG. The foundations upon which further growth and prosperity can be built are in place, and, crucially, it has a strong and positive working relationship with the national government, with whom it has won various contracts to supply and distribute fertiliser countrywide over the past two years, as well as a host of contracts to supply commercial farming enterprises for wheat and maize, and a number of contracts for the country’s large tobacco producers.
And then there’s the retail side of operation, which is also in the process of being expanded so that FSG’s products will soon be made available in every corner of the country network – from 2017, Superfert will be available in 40 towns and cities nationwide, from 130 outlets. Steve said: “This is an ongoing expansion program; we’re continuously looking for new opportunities, particularly to develop our export market, which will assist us in generating much needed foreign exchange.”
These are exciting times, not only for FSG but for the country’s resourceful farmers, and indeed Zimbabwe itself. Times remain challenging, granted, but finally the country has turned a corner: here’s hoping that the good times are here to stay.