Yes, we surely can

Source: Yes, we surely can | Sunday Mail (Opinion)

The completion of a medical oxygen and industrial gas plant in Feruka, Mutare, is yet another remarkable achievement for the Government.

This couldn’t have been more timeous, especially at a time when the country — just like others in the region and beyond — is in the throes of a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Patients who present with severe symptoms of the respiratory disease often need medical oxygen — which is high-purity oxygen used for treatment — to help them breathe and give them a fighting chance.

We all saw the distressing footage of patients gasping for breath in India earlier this year, as they struggled to access the much-needed precious commodity, whose demand had suddenly risen sharply owing to an explosion in infections.

Thankfully, the international community chipped in by donating oxygen concentrators and generating plants.

In this context, the construction and commissioning of the new plant in Mutare cannot possibly be considered a small feat.

What is even more comforting is the fact that the plant is capable of meeting local demand and producing for export.

This helps the country in two ways: It saves foreign currency through import substitution and enriches the national purse.

It represents a refreshing new approach to education and industry that is being aggressively promoted by the new political administration.

Verify Engineering, which spearheaded the project, is a Government entity under the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development, and is operating under the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT).

Engineers and technicians who built the plant are all local, showing that as a people, we have solutions to some of the challenges we face.

But, most importantly, it shows that repurposing our education system from rote learning, which emphasises on memorising, to problem-solving and practical application can certainly work.

Graduate education in highly industrialised Japan, for example, is all about group learning and practical application of knowledge to solve problems.

It focuses on technology innovation, business modelling and enterprise learning, among others. The US also concentrates on practical application as well as risk-taking, innovation and experimentation, which are supported by huge investments in research by both the public and private sector.

The Second Republic, which continues to preach the need to leverage on science and technology to leapfrog the country’s development, has put its money where its mouth is by making key investments in institutional structures needed to foster and incubate innovation.

All State universities such as the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), Midlands State University (MSU), Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) now have innovation hubs where brilliant ideas can be conceived, incubated and sold for use by industry.

While touring the UZ innovation and industrial hub on campus and the agro-industrial park near Mazowe on April 23 this year, President Mnangagwa said the new approach to education — dubbed Education 5.0 — was about investing in knowledge that can materially change livelihoods and the country’s fortunes.

“If focuses on delivery of a higher and tertiary education system that generates knowledge for the production of goods and services through teaching research, community outreach, innovation and industrialisation, and not anymore about how long the Nile River is, and not anymore the size of Hitler’s moustache,” he said.

“This thrust of the higher education sector is the right path that will see us transform into a modern, industrialised and more developed country by 2030.”

This is the way to go.

We hope Verify Engineering will also be successful in its other worthy pursuits such as the mulled coal-to-fertiliser plant and the coal-to-fuel plant in Lisulu, Hwange.

The country is already realising the dividend and positive spin-offs of concentrating on local value chains to drive self-sufficiency and industrialisation.

For instance, a deliberate move to increase wheat production to eliminate exports is driving the performance of companies such as Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Seed Co, which reported a 23 percent rise is sales volumes for the three months to June 30, 2021 owing to wheat seed sales for the winter wheat farming season.

The country more than doubled the area planted under winter wheat this year compared to the same time last year, with a total 47 519 hectares having been planted as at June 5.

Recovery in agriculture is also benefiting farm implements suppliers such as Zimplow Holdings Limited, which reported last year that volumes for its unit which distributes tractors and farming machinery, Farmec, rose by 13 percent driven by tractor and implements volumes growth of 30 percent and 37 percent, respectively, in the year to December 2020.

This is huge.

It is a similar trend in construction, where cement manufacturers such as Lafarge are benefiting from increased demand from capital projects sponsored by Government and the private  sector.

These far-reaching reforms are gradually helping Zimbabwe realise a goal that has been elusive for years — sustainably growing the economy in a way that benefits the generality of Zimbabweans.

And, yes, we surely can succeed if we religiously follow through all the reforms that we have set for ourselves.