Does Zimbabwe have an effective standards control system? This seems to be an odd question to ask since this country is said to have one of the best standards organisations in Africa; this is why Dr Eve Gadzikwa, the current director general of the Standard Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ), has been appointed to the presidency of the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO).
Therefore, this is not a personal attack on the honourable lady. But still, why am I asking such a provocative question, you may want to know?
In order to effectively address this question we need to first understand our subject here. In our context here, the concept of standards is about the need for manufactured goods and services to successfully perform the function for which they are made and/or produced.
There are two primary objectives for the maintenance of these standards; one is human and animal safety, the other is the achievement of efficiency. And the goal of efficiency is to achieve low costs and consequently, high profitability levels for the manufacturer/producer.
These days manufacturers and service providers as led by the developed economies, are aiming at going beyond product functionality towards improved productivity through a concept referred to as total quality management (TQM). This way, they are able to achieve lower product prices without compromising on quality. In the process, they are achieving even higher product quality.
And better machinery, better process management systems and better trained human resources, are key to such a goal.
Generally speaking, standards can be divided into three categories, that is those relating to hard and soft products/items, and those relating to systems some of which are not visible to the naked eye, so to speak. Here we are mostly concerned with first two categories.
Under the first category we have most of the hard products such as engineered items, while under the soft category we have flexible material such as textiles, clothing, and bedding, plastic, fur, leather vinyl. Services fall into their own category — that of intangible products.
Most of the service products use engineered products. As far as product functions are concerned, there is the safety aspect that relates to strength/stress, durability and staying quality of those goods, as well as their capacity to sustain life.
In the life sustenance category we have foods, medicines, light and the air we breathe in and out, as well as the phenomenon of temperature that sustains or preserves life or even terminates it such as in the cases of harmful microbes. In this case quality mostly relates to health, visual and organoleptic aspects.
In the services category it relates to efficiency and effectiveness of the products so made/produced.
As far as accountability in this field is concerned, one fact that needs to be appreciated is that the standards (control) system is not the one that creates the products, it only monitors their quality and/or effectiveness. So there is no way it can carry all the blame for any challenges that may arise along the way.
On the other hand, if the standards (control) system fails to detect and control flaws in the products and services concerned, it carries a good part, but not necessarily, all the blame.
In practice no system or product is exact in terms of mass, volume, consistency and (the physical dimensions of) length, width and depth and so forth; this is especially so with natural products. So as far as standards go, some tolerance ranges are usually specified for each case.
At this stage, let us zero in on Zimbabwe. So far, my own observation is that as far as local manufacturing systems are concerned, our standards (control) systems are strong in the soft and natural product categories but they are quite weak in the hard product category.
However, even then, some hiccups have cropped up in the system from time to time. For example, currently we are battling with water and effluent quality in all our urban areas; and now the challenge is spreading to rural areas.
The recent case at Mt Darwin is a good example here. Sometime in September 2018, only three or six bottled water brands out of 17 were found to contain acceptable levels of bacteria; the rest were made up of contaminated water!
This should not be surprising since currently, the manufacturing industry is very weak; it is failing to produce even those products that do not need much processing.
For example, the other day while I was looking for ingredients to make homemade stock feeds in order to beat the current price hikes, I was surprised to find that mono-calcium phosphate and feed quality limestone — products that only need crushing the rock and packaging the powder — are no longer being produced in the country whereas this country used to boast of farm made stock feeds — the Henderson (Research Station) formula being a good example.
Now they have to be imported with foreign currency and yet there are huge deposits of rock phosphate in Dorowa and limestone in Alaska near Chinhoyi. The situation is even worse in the case of engineering, or engineered products.
Because of these weaknesses, the country has largely failed to participate fully and confidently, in the manufacturing of engineered products even for local use.
As a result, the range of goods the country produces for export is currently limited to commodities as well as those products made of wood, ivory and leather.
In the engineered product category there are very few, if any, products that are being manufactured and exported from the country. Instead, all products comprising such simple items as bolts and washers, as well as the more sophisticated ones such as machinery — are imported using scarce foreign currency!
Of course, this challenge that is itself, not due to poor quality control by SAZ — is closely tied to the industrialisation phenomenon. So unless and until the country industrialises, these challenges will continue to manifest themselves in the economy; they might even get worse.
And of course, no country can successfully participate in the engineering product export industry without a sound quality control system — a system whose parameters match the international ones.
This is a situation that in itself, forms a vicious circle; a weak industry will have a constrained quality control system due to low exposure and a consequently low operational experience in this field.
This will be a result of a limited product range to deal with. (And this is the case with Zimbabwe today.)
With such a system, the country’s industries will have a weak support system for the control and enhancement of the quality of the products it manufactures.
The overall result will be a weak economy with a low economic complexity index. The GDP of such an economy will likely continue to grow slowly at best; at worst it will either remain stagnant or even continue on the decline trajectory.
Under such circumstances, the goal of industrialisation will be difficult to achieve. So, in conclusion, one cannot confidently assert that Zimbabwe has a sound quality (control) standard system.
This implies that, for her economy to make any meaningful progress in terms of organic growth and sophistication, the whole system has to be improved through an integrated approach involving a broad based manufacturing system which makes a wide product range — that is hard and soft as well as service products of an acceptable quality standard.
In the process the (standards) quality control system will be growing with it.
Shambare is an agriculture economist based in Chinhoyi and is reachable on 0714045435