The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe’s export growth is dependent on several factors, including boosting production as well as diversification.
To boost production, there is need to integrate previously marginalised communities such as young people, women and rural communities who can help in growing the much-needed volumes in export business.
President’s Mnangagwa’s Government is already putting emphasis on an inclusive approach to economic development, including export business, which is proving to have positive payoffs in the short-term and long-term.
For example, this year’s 42nd Independence Celebration’s theme “Leaving no one and no place behind” aptly captures the ongoing focus on extending all economic activities – including export ventures — to all districts of the country in line with Second Republic’s devolution agenda.
In this inclusion thrust, what is important is identifying key products and services that will make it easy to integrate rural communities into mainstream export business.
This is where wild fruits and herbs become crucial. By harnessing wild fruits and herbs that are already found in abundance across all provinces, the country can integrate rural communities into international trade and economic development.
Indigenous wild fruits and herbs can be used as a springboard to penetrate international markets due to fewer manufacturing processes required in preserving and packaging of the final products.
Given the potential to increase exports of wild fruits and herbs, there is also room for these products to contribute significantly to sustainable livelihoods through employment creation, community development and increased production for food security.
Going forward, there is need for provision of requisite investment downstream and export promotion services so that rural communities can participate in the global market by tapping into resources at their disposal at the community level. Currently, ZimTrade — the national trade development and promotion organisation – is identifying provincial clusters that can be organised for export markets.
Some of the groups, including those in rural communities, are already receiving export capacity interventions targeted at improving their products in line with expectations of international markets. Areas such as post-harvest handling, packaging, branding and labelling, and international marketing are some of the disciplines that these groups are being exposed to, as ZimTrade prepares them for international markets.
The International Trade Centre (ITC) says changing consumer preferences for natural health products such as wild fruits and natural herbs present a niche that exporters in many least-developed countries are looking to develop for sustainable production and export trade.
Traditional healthcare practitioners, traditional healers and consumption at household level have all contributed to the demand for traditional medicinal plants and herbs.
Growing demand for herbs also comes from the diverse use of products that include conventional and traditional medicine, food supplements, dietary supplements and cosmetics. Apart from household level use, ITC says “there is a clear industrial demand for medicinal and aromatic plants, thanks to the increased production of herbal healthcare formulations; herbal-based cosmetic products and herbal nutritional supplements.”
There is, therefore, an emerging market for wild fruits and herbs in regional and international markets that could offer opportunities for local businesses and rural communities.
As the international market for these products is still small – although with potential to grow – there is no better time than now for local businesses and communities to identify ways they could export wild fruits and natural herbs and secure markets, which could be soon saturated by suppliers from the rest of the continent.
As most of the wild fruits and natural herbs grow in the wild, the cost of producing related export products is lower, which makes it easy even for rural communities, women and youths to take part in economic activities that will earn them foreign currency.
There is also need to establish strong synergies between businesses and communities that will create upstream and downstream economic activities around exporting wild fruits and natural herbs.
Health consciousness is now a global trend and is prompting many to be selective in their dietary choices. Demand for natural foods is rising due to the high health benefits associated with them. Fortunately, Zimbabwe has conducive climatic conditions for wild fruits and traditional herbs that hardly grow in other parts of the world.Zimbabwe has wild fruits ranging from mauyu (Baobab), masau (Ziziphus Mauritania), matohwe (Azanza garckeana) and natural herbs including zumbani (Lippia Javanica), muhacha (Hissing tree) and moringa.
These wild fruits and herbs can go through value addition, packaging and branding that can make it easy for exporters to earn more.
Arid regions such as Mudzi District can benefit from baobab fruit harvesting and play a critical role as raw baobab powder suppliers along the value chain.
Harvested baobab powder can be sold as raw powder or can be used to produce ice cream, baked goods and refreshing juice shakes that can be neatly packaged in cans or plastic-coated paper boards to meet international standards. Research on baobab tree benefits showed that the pulp is a rich source of vitamin C (which helps to fight common colds), antioxidants and other key minerals like potassium, iron, zinc and magnesium.
The baobab kernel and seeds contain high fibre, fat and micronutrients such as thiamine, calcium and iron. The seeds can also be crushed to produce oil that is used for skin care as an anti-aging agent or for hair conditioning. There are indications that baobab fruit products have huge potential in European markets such as Italy.
During the Macfrut 2022, the largest fruit and vegetable exhibition show in Italy, Zimbabwe-produced baobab juice was a major hit amongst potential buyers in the country and the rest of Europe. At the fair, ZimTrade facilitated 10 local companies to exhibit, and these were told by potential buyers about the changing consumer dynamics in Europe, where focus now is on previously underrated products such as wild fruits. Apart from Italy, where buyers indicated potential for baobab products, markets such as Germany, France and United Kingdom are big on organic foods.
Already, there are local players who are exporting baobab powder to Germany and Switzerland. These established routes can be used to penetrate more international markets.
Regarding natural herbs, products that can fare very well in export markets include aloe vera, apple mint, borage, penny royal, calendula and basil.
These herbs are known to be useful for those dealing with ailments such as hepatitis, fibroids, herpes zoster, respiratory infections, nausea, and kidney and bladder inflammation. With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and during the lockdown, demand for natural herbs has grown across the world, creating opportunities for local businesses. For example, there has been an increase in the demand and use of zumbani (Lippia Javanica) herb as a home remedy. The popularity of the herb saw new ways in its uptake including steaming and its use as tea leaves. Some businesses have since packaged zumbani in an attractive way targeting the upmarket consumer.
This has worked in increasing the value of the product. The same product can be easily adapted to target foreign markets, and this can be done by value addition, packaging and labelling.
Allan Majuru is ZimTrade’s chief executive officer