According to a classified cable titled, Poultry and Patronage, How to Make Money in a Crisis, David Irvine, MD of the poultry producer, told US Embassy officials he had connections to a number of government ministers and was exploiting all angles to procure the inputs needed to keep his business going.
The disclosure shows the extent to which white businessmen had to go to curry favour with top Zanu PF officials in order for their business to survive.
“He gives the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) diesel fuel to fix electrical faults and also gives the Zesa workers chickens and eggs so his operation gets priority service during Zimbabwe’s frequent power outages,” according to a cable wired to Washington by former US Ambassador James McGee.
“He also buys Minister (Nicholas) Goche’s entire maize and soya crop, and the two are such close business partners that they don’t do a formal accounting.
“Irvine has access to Grain Marketing Board (GMB) maize at a deeply subsidised price.”
“As Econoffs (US officials) arrived, Irvine was arranging to allow a Zanu PF rally on one of his farms, providing transportation and beef from his own herd for the rally in addition to the location,” the cable said.
Irvine told US Embassy officials he had assisted a number of ministers who wanted to venture into the poultry business attracted by the potential to make quick profits from exporting eggs and day-old chicks.
“Irvine had recently visited (Reserve Bank) governor (Gideon) Gono’s chicken farm and offered his advice and assistance to make it profitable by reducing overcrowding and improving feed deliver,” the cable said.
Irvine described Godwills Masimirembwa, the head of the National Income and Pricing Commission (NIPC), as a “half-baked chicken farmer” and noted that Air Zimbabwe and the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe had also decided to get into the business and fly out day-old chicks to earn foreign currency.
Masimirembwa was the enforcer of price controls. The cable said since government tightened price controls, Irvine’s saw an increase in egg exports to 70% of production from 50%.
“In early February, he was able to negotiate a significant increase in the price of eggs after writing to the Chief Secretary of the Cabinet about the effect of the maize shortage on his ability to supply the local market,” the cable said.
It said Irvine had told the US Embassy officials, Cabinet was very worried about having adequate supplies of poultry and eggs on the shop shelves in the run-up to the election.
Despite the sound management and profitability of Irvine’s Day Old Chicks, Irvine recognised that eliminating the economy’s distortions would weaken the company’s balance sheet.
“He said that if he had to pay market prices for maize and had to borrow at real interest rates, his prices would have to rise and his sales would decline,” the cable said. Irvines could not be reached for comment.