The Sunday Mail
AS global markets went to “sleep” because of lockdown measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 early this year, demand for some horticultural produce fell drastically.
Hotels, resort centres and catering services, which had been the largest consumers of imported horticultural produce, reduced purchases, leaving many producers with nowhere to sell.
In Europe, most buyers cancelled orders as domestic supplies could meet local demand in those countries. Covid-19 grounded deliveries and shipments across the world, resulting in huge losses for some farmers.
Agence France-Presse reported in March that farmers in the Netherlands destroyed millions of flowers a day, in unprecedented scenes as Covid-19 cut demand. However, over the past few weeks, most European Union (EU) countries have started to ease restrictions.
This has seen a resurgence of tourism activities, which is expected to see a boom in imports of horticultural produce in most European countries. According to Re-open EU, a web platform that contains essential information allowing a safe relaunch of free movement and tourism across Europe, tourists from EU or Schengen countries can enter the Netherlands, provided they have valid travel reservations such as holiday accommodation.
The increase in tourism activities is expected to boost consumption, which in turn will increase imports of horticultural produce, whose consumption had dropped in the first quarter of the year.
One of the sectors set to benefit from increased demand in international markets is floriculture, which can increase Zimbabwe’s exports if farmers tap into the international markets with better tourism activities.
Floriculture is one of the most viable sub-sectors, with potential to significantly contribute to the growth of exports and generate the much-needed foreign currency for the nation.
Flowers used to be one of Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign currency earners at the height of production and there is potential to surpass those figures.
According to Floridaily — an online news publication on flowers – by 2001 Zimbabwean flower exports were ranked second in Africa, behind Kenya.
Kenya is still the leading exporter of flowers in Africa, having exported US$709 million worth of produce in 2019 followed by Ethiopia with US$241 million and South Africa with US$55 million.
For Zimbabwe, floriculture has gone down over the past 20 years.
According to Trade Map, Zimbabwe exported flowers worth just over US$3 million in 2019, up from around US$2 million in 2017.
Recent flower export figures show a significant difference from its peak period in 2001 where floriculture amounted to US$67,8 million, which was 70 percent of total horticulture exports.
Back in 2001, at the height of floriculture exports, Zimbabwe was the fifth biggest exporter to the European Union, one of the largest global markets for flowers.
Over the years, Netherlands has remained the largest importer of Zimbabwean flowers importing just over US$2,3 million in 2019, according to Trade Map.
With the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines operating between Zimbabwe and the Netherlands, opportunities are open for local farmers to increase flower exports to Europe through the Netherlands.
In 2019, the Netherlands – which is one of the largest re-exporters of horticultural produce in Europe – imported US$1,2 billion worth of flowers globally.
This indicates opportunities for Zimbabwe to improve exports to the rest of Europe if local producers can get the numbers right. The International Trade Centre estimates the annual consumption of commercially grown flowers to range from US$40 billion to 60 billion. Other markets where the country used to export good numbers and still has an opportunity to reclaim the market include Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan.
To capitalise on these and more markets today, there is a need for smallholder farmers to diversify. Currently, exports of flowers are still limited to the European market.
There is a huge appetite for flowers around the world and there is a need to open up to new markets in the Middle East and Asia, just as Macadamia farmers have successfully done.
To remain competitive in floriculture, local producers need to be aware of various global trends, which include adopting climate smart technologies in production and processing.
All-year round production assures incomes for businesses. Adopting these technologies will mean that farmers can target small size land and produce high value products.
Global trends have seen advancement in plant biotechnology, including genome and sequencing which is now a key factor propelling the global floriculture market.
When entering floriculture farming, it is important for local farmers to adhere to the health and safety standards.
Floriculture crops are not food and, therefore, food safety risks do not come into play. However, phytosanitary dangers and risks to those handling the floriculture products can occur if not identified and controlled.
Logistics is a core subset of the floriculture value chain as flowers require some level of temperature control to retain their key characteristics and associated value.
To develop the floriculture value chain, there is a need to re-introduce the pool market system where growers used to deliver their flowers to the airport, with agents exporting the flowers to auction floors.
As markets begin to import more flowers, there is a need for local farmers to take part in key international trade fairs, which will assist in ensuring local producers reach different export markets.
These platforms are crucial to increasing exports as they enable buyers and sellers to meet and create purchasing deals.
For example, HortiFlorexpo IPM Shanghai is one of the largest flower exhibition trade fairs that producers can participate in to increase presence in the Asian market.
The next Hortiflorexpo IPM Shanghai will take place from April 15 to 17 2021.
Zimbabwe’s HortiFlor, an international horticulture and floriculture trade fair, is also one local trade fair that producers can utilise.
However, due to Covid-19, the fair, which was meant to be held in March 2020, had to be moved to a later date.
Going forward, there is a need to strengthen linkages between farmers, public sector and development partners to address challenges that have been impacting the floriculture sector, as the country gears for increased exports.
One of the reasons behind the decline in production is that floriculture in Zimbabwe was previously dominated by large enterprises who had the financial muscle to put together the infrastructure required to maintain export value crops.
However, with the shift in agriculture which is now dominated by small-scale farmers, there has been a financing gap as most of them seem to struggle to attain the necessary requirements to access funding.
This in turn affects production capacities.
To address some of the challenges faced by small-scale farmers, there have been efforts to build an association that will see local producers joining forces in tackling quality and traceability concerns.
In some instances, some of the large commercial enterprises have been working with small-scale farmers to finance their operations.
ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion body, is also actively assisting small-scale farmers to attain necessary requirements that will enable them to partake in the competitive export market.
Currently, ZimTrade is working with the Netherlands-based PUM to establish a model farm in Nyanga, which will be expected to assist in research, development, skills transfer as well as act as a consolidation centre for smallholder flower farmers.
The farm will also bring on-board smallholder farmers, making it easy for them to gain market access. The same approach will be replicated in Mashonaland East and Midlands Provinces.
This will ensure that small-scale floriculture farmers in need of technical expertise can be assisted with knowledge on, for example, international standards and trends for them to be competitive in the export market.
ZimTrade’s technical partners are also working under the programme to assist small-scale farmers to improve on production efficiencies and product quality.
The Best Model Farm Programme that is currently under implementation has so far been successful with three farms in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East and Midlands exporting fresh produce to the EU market, including fresh flowers.
Further, ZimTrade is working with the leadership from Zimbabwe’s various provinces to establish provincial clusters, which will address some of the key concerns behind the decline in exports at provincial level.
In Zimbabwe, floriculture is mainly concentrated in areas such as Nyanga, Marondera, Bindura, Banket/Trelawney, Concession/Glendale, Gweru, Goromonzi, Harare and Kwekwe. The main flowers cultivated by most of the farms in Zimbabwe are roses species constituting about 70 percent of all the flowers produced for the export market. Other types produced in the country are proteas, asters and chrysanthemums.
Annual varieties of summer flowers also being grown in the country include ammi majus and bupleurum.
Allan Majuru is the chief executive of ZimTrade