via Horticultural sector still in the doldrums | The Financial Gazette by Tabitha Mutenga 26 Sep 2013
FROM all-time-high annual revenue of US$142 million in 1999, latest statistics show that the country is earning less than US$40 million from horticultural exports.At its peak, the sector was the second largest foreign currency earner after tobacco, contributing an average four percent of gross domestic product.
The country exported 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.
Today, the country imports the same temperate fruits such as apples, pears, plum, peach apricots, nectarine and grape from South Africa.
With potential to generate revenue for the nation, the sector today is non-existent considering that Zimbabwe at one time was rated the third country after the Netherlands and Israel in the flower production industry.
Production has declined from 142 000 tonnes in 1999 to 39 175 tonnes in 2010.
According to the Zimtrade Report (2012) on horticulture, challenges faced by the sector include 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 in the sector, compounded by low wages have affected production because most farm workers are opting for gold/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/measures on quality, food safety and hygiene especially from Europe have also led to the collapse of the sector.
Analyst, Gideon Chitanga urged Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made to come up with a new agricultural policy thrust to lure investors for the development of the industry.
“Primarily, a complimentary expression of a new policy thrust located within a concrete desire to lure investors by ensuring the protection of property rights based on a clear agricultural strategy for the next 10 to 20 years located within a post fast track phase of agriculture could create opportunities for agricultural prosperity.
“There is need to focus on the post land reform situation to address issues of land tenure, sustainable agricultural support and to rationalise land ownership by addressing worries about multiple ownership of land in order to attract serious capital investment in the sector.
“Lastly, the issue of compensating former commercial farmers and its multiple multi-lateral political implications should be sorted otherwise no serious private investors will put their money in agriculture,” Chatanga said.
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.
Agriculture expert, Rodger Mpande, recommended that Made should separate politics from the business of agriculture to allow prosperity in the once vibrant industry.
“Zimbabwe is paying a lot of money to South Africa to import the same fruits that can be produced in Zimbabwe. We have our own people, experts in the field of horticulture working in farms scattered around Limpopo. The whole thing is actually criminal,” Mpande said.
The expansion of the horticulture industry will have a positive impact on various other industries, both domestic and foreign. These include service providers (marketing, exporting, freight, consultancy, forwarding, financial) as well as input suppliers (agro-chemical, greenhouses, packaging, coverings, fans, uniforms, irrigation, refrigerated trucks, timber, 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.
The policy thrust should look at the fact that the flower sector is mostly controlled by markets and breeders, hence the need to find a way for the new farmers to export flowers into Europe.