From all-time-high annual revenue of US$142 million in 1999, latest 2010 statistics show that the country earned less than US$40 million from horticulture exports.
At its peak, the sector was the second largest foreign currency earner after tobacco, contributing an average 4 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.
But Zimbabwe’s major horticulture products — cut flowers, citrus and market vegetables — have since 2000 been on regress. This follows the withdrawal of large-scale white farmers who had mechanised equipment and the emergence of indigenous players who sought to address the unequal land distribution. But the new farmers have not found the going easy.
They cite power outages as a result of the national electricity shortage, labour problems due to low wages, prohibitive transport costs, low capital injection and lack of access to direct markets as the major reasons for the low output
Since 2010, efforts to train new farmers on improving their skills in the sector as well as other assistance have been extended by the Government and other
A national horticulture liaison committee has been established to link the farmers with international players and resuscitate the country’s horticulture sector, but it seems the efforts are in vain.
With reports that only US$39,1 million was realised from horticulture exports in 2010, it is clear all in not well in this sector and this prompted The Sunday Mail
In-Depth to seek the answers.
Visiting the once vibrant Kintyre Estates near Harare and just before Norton, the situation on the land use can best be described as sad.
One of the plots had less than two hectares under tomatoes while cucumbers occupied a tenth of a hectare and one hectare each of cabbages, onions and flowers.
Mr Nyongani Botomni, the general manager of Bonata Enterprises at Kintyre Estates, said imports had pushed the sector between a rock and hard ground.
“On the local market, supermarkets are importing products from Mozambique and South Africa at lower prices than our local prices,” Mr Botomni said.
“We do not have direct links to international markets hence we resort to agents, meaning we share the little profit.
“Also, during summer workers abandon the fields and take up fishing because it gives them more money than what we offer them. These disturbances are not good for us.”
Because of the problems being faced in the horticultural sector, many people are now opting for crops such as tobacco.
It is estimated that over 70 000 farmers have registered to grow tobacco in the next season compared to about 65 000 last year while about 150 million kgs of the crop are expected to go under the hammer this year.
The boom in the tobacco sector and others such as cotton has seen more farmers shifting from horticulture.
Another factor that has hit hard some of the horticulture farmers is the dilapidated irrigation infrastructure and high prices of the local product compared to imports.
Presenting the Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review recently, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said there was a need to rehabilitate irrigation schemes, especially in rural areas.
The measure, he said, would result in a boost in horticulture production.
Chegutu-based farmer Mrs Chengetai Ngongani said political forces were at play in the marketing of horticultural produce.
“Most foreign buyers prefer offering best prices to white farmers and they shortchange us if they know it is a black farmer’s produce,” she said.
Investigations show that some international buyers demand proof that no child labour was engaged in the production process as well as the building of facilities such as schools and housing near or on their farms.
The European Union has the biggest market for horticultural produce, but local farmers say some trade cartels undermine the prices.
The cartels are accused of determining who buys from whom.
Gerald Mutasa, from Masawi area in Mhondoro, said transport to major markets was expensive hence putting them out of business.
“It would help to have the Government or an institutional investor willing to secure a fleet of vehicles that can be leased to farmers at affordable rates,” he said.
Permanent Secretary for Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Mr Ngoni Masoka said horticulture was affected by limited and expensive funding.
He, however, called on local agro-industrial firms to fund the sector, adding that it was a multi-billion-dollar industry.
“These agro-industrial companies were reluctant to fund the production of horticulture crops. Lately they were biased towards tobacco and cotton farmers,” said Mr
Countries like Zambia and South Africa have supported their farmers while similar measures have been a success in Kenya where over US$1,2 billion is realised from horticulture exports annually.
However, Commercial Farmers’ Union business manager Richard Taylor said the major issues affecting horticulture was lack of collateral
“Most horticultural farmers do not have property and this deprives them from getting long-term loans from the bank,” he said.
Horticulture was largely a preserve of former white commercial farmers, and upon the launch of the land redistribution programme, the black majority ventured into the sector. But technical skills and expertise in handling fresh and highly perishable produce in accordance with world standards has been the major impediment for local
The sector has the potential to generate revenue for the nation, but observers say if no supporting measures are put in place, horticulture will die.