Emmah Chinyamutangira Business Correspondent
FARMERS in Manicaland have committed an average of 7 684 hectares of land towards production of horticultural crops during the 2018/2019 season. This development will go a long way in generating foreign currency through exports.
Horticulture specialist with Agritex Mr Douglas Nzarayebani said an increase in production of horticulture produce would, in the long term, revive exports and assist the country to generate the much needed foreign currency, create employment, improve food security and reduce poverty.
“Farmers are doing their best to save the economy from shortages of foreign currency by exporting horticultural produce and reducing importation of fruit juices into the country,” he said.
“We hope the projects will also play an important role in boosting economic growth and recovery in the near future,” said Mr Nzarayebani.He said most farmers in Chipinge and Mutasa districts, who have the technical expertise in horticulture, have over the past few years been mainly involved production of cash fruit crops for export markets.
“Farmers have planted 2 237ha of bananas and expecting to produce 37 110 tonnes. They have also planted 916ha of avocados out of which we expect to produce 45 800 tonnes. We also planted 192ha of apples that will give us 3 840 tonnes. Macadamia nuts covers 3 119ha and we expect to produce 9 357 tonnes while pineapples account for 103ha out of which we expect to produce 1 545 tonnes,” he said.
“We want to produce high quality products that will compete at favourable global markets and penetrate new markets,” he said.
Mr Nzarayebani revealed that Government was moving towards resuscitation horticulture markets in various European countries.
The Government was also facilitating educating farmers on market requirements and how to maintain their produce to obtain high quality that attracts foreign buyers.
“Some farmers are not aware of the market requirements and there is need to educate them through extension services,” he added.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has set aside $20 million for the revival of the horticulture industry, which despite its huge potential to generate foreign currency for the nation, has largely been in a moribund state.
RBZ Governor Dr John Mangudya is on record saying horticulture should be rejuvenated to its original status when it was the second largest foreign currency earner after tobacco, contributing an average four percent of gross domestic product.
At its peak in 1999, horticulture earned the country annual revenue of US$142m, with Zimbabwe being envied as the third country after the Netherlands and Israel in the flower production industry.
Horticulture is a specialised type of farming that favours a somewhat wet climate, good soils, fairly low temperatures and a consistent water supply throughout the year.
The production of horticultural crops tends therefore to be concentrated in Natural Regions One, Two and Three, which receive in excess of 500mm of rainfall per year.
Zimbabwe used to export about 85 percent of its flowers to the Netherlands while about 90 percent of the total fresh vegetables landed in Britain, South Africa, Zambia and Namibia and 80 percent of fruits were consumed by British and South African markets.
Roses produced in Banket, Trelawney, Concession, Glendale, Bindura, Harare, Goromonzi and Kwekwe constituted 70 percent of cut-flower exports from Zimbabwe. Other flowers grown and exported include proteas, asters and chrysanthemums.
Annual varieties produced in large volumes include ammi majus and buplearum. Smaller volumes of delphinium, carthamus, craspedia, euphorbia, callistephus and molucella were also produced.
Currently, Zimbabwe is importing fruits like apples, pears, plum, peach apricots, nectarine and grape from South Africa.
Horticultural production plummeted from 142 000 tonnes in 1999 to 39 175 tonnes in 2010.
The 2012 Zimtrade Report on horticulture cited challenges blighting the sector as power outages which grossly affect fresh produce exports because they require certain temperatures to be maintained and also affect irrigation of the crops.
Labour shortages, compounded by low wages affected production because most farm workers opted for gold and diamond panning as a source of livelihood.
The highly technical and labour intensive enterprise requires very high start up costs especially for new farmers, infrastructure like greenhouses, cold rooms and working capital, of which many farmers cannot afford as the whole agricultural industry requires massive investment in infrastructure and support from the banking sector.
Dilapidated irrigation infrastructure and stringent phyto-sanitary demands or measures on quality, food safety and hygiene especially from Europe have also led to the collapse of the sector.
Access to finance has been the biggest bottle-neck in the sector mainly because of the absence of a land market which prevents financial institutions from granting loans to farmers because there is little or no collateral to support loans.
Also the absence of security of tenure has seen a number of farmers unwilling to undertake any medium to long term investments on farms, as a result, a number of green houses are lying and neither the government nor the banks are coming up with strategies to assist farmers.
The expansion of the horticulture industry will have a positive impact on various other industries, both domestic and foreign.
These include service providers such as marketing, exporting, freight, consultancy, forwarding, financial and input suppliers like agro-chemical, greenhouses, packaging, coverings, fans, uniforms, irrigation, refrigerated trucks, timber and electrical instruments.
Unfortunately, the farmers tasked with the expansion of the sector today have neither the capacity nor the know-how to run the projects given to them.
Primarily, they need government assistance in terms of an enabling agricultural policy.