The Sunday Mail
CITRUS fruits are currently in high demand the world over.
This is largely because of their perceived immune boosting benefits for those fighting Covid-19. They are relatively rich in Vitamin C.
In April, the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa (CGA) reported that demand for lemons from overseas markets doubled compared with the same period in 2019 while the Zimbabwe Citrus Growers Association shipped large consignments of lemons to Russia and the Middle East.
CGA has been observing the Southern African citrus exports.
They forecast that this year’s soft citrus production will reach two million cartons with 1,2 million cartons already packed, surpassing the 700 000 cartons packed over the same period last year.
As demand has gone up, indications are that supply has been failing to meet required numbers, pushing the prices up over the past few months.
According to Global Trade Review, a carton of lemons was fetching between US$50 and US$60 in the Middle East in April 2020 against the normal price range of US$15 to US$20 per carton.
According to the same publication, even in countries where certain types of citrus such as grapefruit were not widely consumed, shoppers are now buying “anything that looks like an orange or a lemon”.
Globally, the citrus market is worth over US$15,1 billion, according to TradeMap.
The biggest markets in the world include United States of America constituting 9 percent of global imports, Russia, Germany and Netherlands at 8 percent each, France (7 percent), United Kingdom (5 percent), China (4 percent) and Canada (3 percent).
China imports over one million tonnes of citrus products worth about US$594 million. There is scope for Zimbabwean citrus producers to supply the Chinese market.
To fully take advantage of the Chinese market, Government is finalising a protocol on citrus, which will allow Zimbabwe direct access and entry into the Chinese market.
The good thing about Zimbabwe taping into the Chinese market is that it will ease over-reliance on the European market, allowing the country to diversify and hedge against price volatility.
Under this protocol, Zimbabwean citrus fruits exported to China, including orange, mandarin, lemon, grapefruit, limes, tangelo and grapefruit, shall comply with the relevant phytosanitary laws, regulations and health and safety standards of China, and satisfy requirements as stipulated in the protocol.
The notable pests that are highlighted by the Chinese as being problematic include Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitate), Natal fruit fly (Ceratitis rosa), False Codling Moth (Thaumatitibia leucotreta), Bunch mite (Brevipalpus californicus) and Oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis).
The Chinese also highlight that citrus exports should be free from Leaf spot (Phaeoramularia angolensis) and African greening disease (Candidatus liberobacter africanum).
With the protocol at an advanced stage of development, there are opportunities for local farmers to tap into the lucrative markets and earn foreign currency, especially now when prices are still high.
Figures over the past few years indicate that local farmers have potential to increase supply.
Exports of citrus products by Zimbabwe have been increasing by around four percent in the last exporting years (2015-2019).
According to Trade Map, Zimbabwe exported 49 358 tonnes of citrus in 2019, predominantly made up of valencia oranges that make the biggest portion of the citrus export market followed by navel oranges, lemons, soft citrus and grapefruits.
At peak Zimbabwe put approximately 10 000 hectares under citrus. Currently it has about 3000 hectares under export citrus production.
To increase the total area under the crop, which will make it easy to increase exports, there is a need for new players to enter and take part in the production of this high value crop.
This entrance by new players will require all stakeholders, particularly farmers, to adopt a commodity approach where established players support the entire value chain with technical, business and agronomic skills.
Setting up and developing youth led farms and businesses will also ensure that the industry stays ahead of the curve. Setting up of new plantations requires three-year establishment costs and as such, there is a need to attract funding and investment into the establishment of new orchards.
Citrus fruits require sub-tropical conditions to optimally grow, thriving in wet warm temperatures and are intolerant to frost.
They can withstand temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. In Zimbabwe citrus fruits are commercially grown in areas which include Beitbridge, Mazowe Valley, Chegutu, Headlands and Chipinge.
Unlike in the aforementioned places, citrus fruits in Rusitu Valley are grown by communal farmers on backyard orchards.
To increase the national throughput of the commodity, there is a need to open new orchards and small-scale farmers can devote a piece of land for citrus production and complement their existing cop production.
These smallholder farmers must cluster around an off-taker that will consolidate produce for export marketing.
Areas like Honde Valley, Chiredzi, Chegutu, Mwenezi, Mazowe Valley and Rusitu Valley can be mobilised to produce small portions of land under citrus which can then be exported.
Currently, the biggest hindrance to citrus production is access to seedlings as potential producers must wait for 15 to 18 months to access seedlings.
Some local farmers are having to source their planting materials from South Africa as local supply cannot meet demand. In Zimbabwe, we have one company accredited with the Citrus Research Institute to produce planting material.
To increase nursery production to meet the national requirements, Zimbabwe should establish more nurseries and capacitate existing ones such as the Chiredzi Research Institute.
The major economic value of oranges lies in their fruits and juice concentrates, but several fragrant oils can be extracted from their flowers or from their peel as a by-product of the orange-juice industry.
These essences can be used to manufacture fragrances used in the manufacturing of perfumes and to scent many household products, such as liquid detergents, shampoos and soaps with aromatic oils extracted from citrus products.
Other commercial value-added products from citrus fruits include citric acid, marmalade/sweet spreads.
ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation, continues to engage the Netherlands-based PUM experts in the horticulture sector to improve the sector’s competitive edge through increased throughput, efficiency, effectiveness and quality.
Allan Majuru is the chief executive of ZimTrade.