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November 18, 2011

Zimbabwe: horticultural sector shows signs of recovery

by Tabitha Mutenga

Despite poor funding, Zimbabwe's horticultural sector has marginally improved, with fresh produce production expected to increase to 4 500 tonnes in 2011, from 3 200 tonnes last year.

However, this is still far below production levels before the country embarked on agrarian reforms in 2000, when fresh produce levels hovered around 10 000 tonnes, although it hit 10 240 tonnes at the height of the agrarian reforms.

Fresh produce output amounted to 3 000 tonnes in 2009.

Statistics compiled by the Commercial Farmers Union show that horticultural production has generally improved, registering growth of 43 000 tonnes in 2010 against 35 000 tonnes in 2009.

There is still much more investment to be undertaken before production levels rise to levels above 60 000 tonnes experienced when the sector was still vibrant.

Flower production is expected to remain stagnant at 7 500 tonnes this year after picking up in 2010 to 7 500 tonnes. This was a drop from 8 000 tonnes realised in 2 008. Flower production output reached 5 000 tonnes in 2009.

Production had peaked at 22 800 tonnes in 2003.

Local horticultural production includes products such as cut flowers, fruit and tropical fruit, out of season fruit and vegetables. At its peak during the late 1990s horticulture was the second largest agricultural foreign exchange earner after tobacco, recording export figures in 1999 of US$144 million.

The sector is currently facing a number of challenges which include power outages that grossly affect fresh produce exports which require certain temperatures to be maintained and also affects irrigation of the crops.

Labour shortages are also a huge problem in horticulture and due to poor salaries, farm workers are opting for gold or diamond panning as a source of livelihood.

Horticultural production, which is labour intensive, also requires highly technical and specialised skills.

Very high start up costs especially for new farmers (infrastructure like greenhouses, cold rooms and working capital), has negatively affected production, inc-luding dilapidated irrigation infrastructure, particularly in communal areas.

Stringent phyto-sanitary demands on quality, food safety and hygiene especially from Europe also have a negative im-pact of horticultural output.

Citrus production in 2011 is projected to slightly improve from the 29 750 tonnes in 2010 to 30 000 tonnes although production in 2000 and 2001 was 39 320 tonnes. Over the years, production increased to 47 770 tonnes in 2004, declining to 15 000 tonnes in 2 009.

Horticultural production is a rapidly growing sector and export of flowers had made Zimbabwe the fourth largest supplier to the Dutch flower-auction market. However, horticultural exports are prone to price fluctuations because of global supply and demand factors.

Zimbabwe's horticultural sector is essential to economic recovery and is strategic in respect of the enhancement of the country's export receipts.

In paprika, production has improved from 340 tonnes last year to 1 200 tonnes this year.

In 2008, paprika output was pegged at 740 tonnes, declining to 260 tonnes in 2009. Output reached its peak at 13 870 tonnes in 2000.

Zimbabwe exports flowers to the Netherlands, Germany, UK, USA, France and Italy. Fresh vegetables are exported to South Africa, Zambia, UK and Namibia while fruits are taken to South Africa and UK.

Financial Gazette

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