Belarus deals make sense on both sides

03 Feb, 2023 - 00:02 0 Views
Belarus deals make sense on both sides

eBusiness Weekly

The most immediate gain from the visit of President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus is the second phase of the Zimbabwe-Belarus Farm Mechanisation Programme, the supply on special financial terms of tractors and other high-end farm equipment, although many other gains are in the pipeline under signed agreements.

The fact that it is the second phase is important, since presumably among the considerations that influenced Zimbabwe were the technical reports on the first tranche of the equipment, and that must have included the views of the farmers who used it.

While President Mnangagwa has led the engagement with Belarus, as President he has shown a high regard for the views and reports of his experts, and in this case they must have included the views and reports of both his technical experts and his financial experts. In other words Zimbabwe signed up because both parts of the equation made sense and benefited the country.

Belarus, an inland small country on the borders of Eastern Europe, is not the most obvious trading partner for Zimbabwe but when you go into the nitty-gritty a lot makes sense.

For a start, as President Lukashenko made clear later, Belarus was a major industrial centre of the old Soviet Union. When the Soviet republics all became independent sovereign states it found itself with this major industrial base, some mining and a reasonable agriculture. It built from that as fast as it could.

The agriculture was developed as quickly as possible, and the country is a food exporter despite being north of the great black-earth belt of Eastern Europe, mainly the Ukraine and southern Russia, and with freezing winters. One reason was that industrial base, so Belarus farmers had the equipment, fertilisers and chemicals they needed to push production to new and higher limits.

The industrial base was a good start. The one problem that affected many of the former Soviet Republics was quality and lack of innovative technology, largely a result of the closed and uncompetitive market they operated within. Belarus was fortunate, since it had been producing for export to farms in the rest of the Soviet Union, and so had to keep the quality up even if only to avoid the sort of backbiting and sniping that can occur in even a closed market.

And the country realised that its major exports were going to have to be manufactured goods, so there was a lot of pressure to produce high quality at a reasonable price, and make sure the technology was top notch. We can see where some of the engineering input came from when we look at the four Belarus universities that have signed a deal with Zimbabwean universities with engineering and agricultural faculties. Belarus also inherited, and grew, a major technical education sector capable of research, and especially of research into applying technology to industry.

When half your industrial output has to be sold to someone else, and you are a smallish country whose brands do not exactly dominate the world stage, you have to have good products, so those who try them out come back with bigger orders, which is roughly what Zimbabwe has been doing.

There is nothing wrong with Belarus industries arranging, with their Government’s support, innovative financing and credit so Zimbabwe and Zimbabwean farmers can buy the goods. One eternal problem with selling equipment to farmers that will rapidly increase production is that they first need to use the equipment to increase production, and hence profits, before they have the cash to buy the stuff.

One interesting point when looking at the two phases of the mechanisation programme is the mix of equipment in each. The first phase could be considered tractor light and harvester and planter heavy, consisting of 474 tractors but 60 combine harvesters, each far more expensive and specialised than a tractor, plus 210 planters and five low-bed trucks.

The second phase had a far different distribution, this time 1 300 tractors, but just 14 combine harvesters and some disc harrows. The reason seems obvious. The combine harvester fleet, with the critical addition of the Belarus 60, was just enough to bring in the last record wheat harvest. Very few commercial farmers, if any, need their own combine harvester and most competent and productive A2 farmers probably need one for just a few days, meaning it is better to rent than buy.

The second batch is mainly to cope with growing expansion, and probably to allow some of the oldest combines in the national fleet to enter their well-earned retirement.

However almost every farmer in the A2 lists, needs at least one good tractor of their own, year round, and some will need more than one. There was also that factor that we have already mentioned, that those who use farm equipment like to try before they buy. So the results of how those initial 474 actually worked on Zimbabwean farms and Zimbabwean soils was important, and the reports must have been good enough to see the huge boost in supply.

There are other areas where Belarus supply would be useful. We are already importing, and trying out, Belarus buses. They have received high marks and Belarus is more than willing to see local assembly and some local components, which if nothing else benefits both countries by at least slashing the transport costs, making the Belarus kits even more competitive.

While mining does not assume as much dominance in Belarus as a proportion of the economy as it does in present day Zimbabwe, it is a major element, and like Zimbabwe is largely open cast. That requires machinery that can move a lot of earth, including those incredible trucks with wheels taller than a house. When you have to move the overburden, take out the ore, and then replace the overburden so you do not wreck the environment you need the big stuff. Again it depends on quality and price but it is highly probable that Belarus can win on both.

In many ways Belarus provides a model for Zimbabwean development and growth, a small country that exports a moderate amount of food, a lot of industrial products, and these days turns a high proportion of its mining output not just into processed minerals, but into the final industrial products it exports. We need to look at that route very hard, because that is where the money and the jobs are.

The fact that the Belarus Government also acts at times as a super salesperson for its industry is something that we are already doing, and as we expand we will also need to look at the more advanced elements of this salesmanship, which has seen Zimbabwe becoming a growing customer of Belarus output.

The other interesting point about Belarus is its determination to be a friend of all and enemy of none, as perhaps can be seen by its stand in the present East European conflict where it has declared and maintained a sturdy total neutrality between its largest and most powerful neighbour and largest training partner on one side, and its second largest and second most powerful neighbour on the other. Its determination to be in no one’s military equations, whatsoever, makes this neutrality successful.

Part of that policy comes from history, and Belarus’s geography has created much of its history and made universal friendship a matter of survival, not just a policy for accelerated growth. The major wars in Eastern Europe over the past two plus centuries have been fought in Belarus and have devastated Belarus several times.

Napoleon invaded the Russian Empire via Belarus, and considering that the most effective, the only really effective, strategy of the Russian Empire was to confine the French invasion in a corridor where all food and potential shelter was removed, it is easy to see with the exception of Moscow itself, burned to the ground to deny Napoleon a winter base, the greatest devastation proportionally was in Belarus.

The First World War saw German invasion. The immediately following Soviet-Polish War was largely fought in Belarus, although there was briefer action in what is now eastern Poland and north-west Ukraine.

In the Second World War Hitler, invading on a wider front than Napoleon, still sent his central thrust through Belarus on the way to his unsuccessful attack on Moscow. Belarus was eventually liberated, but still suffered the full horror of among the longest and most vicious Nazi occupations.

The country was rebuilt, and has been accelerating from that rebuild, but has had to continuously boost its industrial capacity and educate and train vast percentages of its citizens in a very wide range of technical skills, and ensure that they are innovative enough to keep that growth in quality moving as fast as possible.

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