Export potential in stone fruits
Horticulture has been identified as one of the priority areas that has potential to contribute immensely towards the growth of Zimbabwe’s exports.
The National Export Strategy (2019-2023) places horticulture sector as one of the 15 sectors prioritised for export development and promotion based on export potential, revealed comparative advantage and quick-win low hanging fruit.
For horticulture sector, the potential lies in Zimbabwe’s climatic conditions which are conducive for horticultural farming.
This has seen local farmers producing some of the world’s top quality horticultural crops which mainly include tropical, citrus and deciduous fruits; various vegetables; tree nuts; avocados and cut flowers.
When looking at export trends, at peak, the country exported around 18,400 metric tonnes of flowers, 14,200 metric tonnes of vegetables and 45,000 metric tonnes of fruits with earnings of approximately US$143 million annually, according to the National Export Strategy.
During this period, the export market was largely supplied by large-scale commercial producers.
However, the recent years where interest has been revived on horticulture exports, smallholder farmers are now being integrated into mainstream export business.
Most smallholder farmers are exporting as outgrowers, whilst others have grouped themselves to make it easy to consolidate and meet buyers’ required quantities.
One of the secrets for these smallholder farmers has been selecting crops that are easy to manage but offer high returns over longer periods of time.
This is where fruit trees come into play, such as stone fruits.
Stone fruits, also known as drupes, are fruits with a stone-like or hard endocarp with a seed inside.
The examples of stone fruits include cherries, peaches, apricots, lychees, nectarines, plums, berries, and mangoes amongst others. All stone fruits can be classified as either freestone or clingstone.
Freestone fruits have a stone that can be easily removed from the flesh, as the two are not attached whilst clingstone fruits have stones that cannot be easily removed from the flesh, as the two are attached.
The global surge in demand for stone fruits coming from perceived healthy benefits as they are touted to offer an abundance of nutrients that can benefit an individual’s health in various ways.
Stone fruits are rich in Vitamin C which helps in building a strong immune system and reduce the impact and duration of summer colds.
Stone fruits are also rich in Vitamin K, especially plums, a nutrient which is critical in maintaining health bones and teeth.
When cooked and taken as dessert, their rich supply of carotenoids, can help strengthen eyesight, skin membranes and immune function.
They are an excellent source of fibre, which helps the body to digest food efficiently and smoothly, making them ideal for people who are on weight management.
According to Trade Map, world imports of apricots, cherries, and peaches have grown from US$6.48 billion in 2017 to US$9.53 billion in 2021.
In 2021, global import value of fresh cherries stood at US$5,026 billion whilst that of fresh peaches including nectarines stood at US$2.635 billion.
Although the global market of stone fruits is high, Zimbabwe’s share is still small, which indicates potential for growth.
Riding on the high quality of local produce, thanks to good soils and favourable climatic conditions, there is room for local producers to grow their exports by increasing production.
Current export markets for Zimbabwe-grown stone fruits are Netherlands, South Africa and Zambia, among others.
Zimbabwe farmers looking to export into Europe are encouraged to take advantage of the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA).
The iEPA trade agreement allows qualifying products from developing countries which are members to be sold to European markets duty free and quota free if they have requisite certification.
Those looking at United Kingdom (UK) market can also take advantage of the Eastern Southern Africa Economic Partnership Agreement (UK-ESA-EPA) currently in place.
UK-ESA-EPA provides duty-free, quota-free access to goods exported from Zimbabwe to UK.
The agreement thus provides a direct route to market for Zimbabwean products, as local exporters will continue to enjoy tariff and quota free access in the UK market
To increase exports from the sub-sector, producers must also align their products and processes along current global trends, as these indicate where they can obtain high value.
The peach and other stone fruit have been sold in many different forms throughout the world depending on the preferences of the region.
The recent trends in marketing encourage the development of “new” types and products to diversify the market for any given region.
Thus, the concept of the peach and other stone fruit is expanding to include a wider range of colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors.
The expansion of stone fruit consumption will depend on marketing, quality consistency, and the cost of the fruit.
The market trends that are impacting stone fruit consumption are the globalization and need for year-round supplies of produce, the high cost of labor, the diversification of the produce department and related products, the health benefits of the fruit, and the safety issues of pesticide use and bacterial contamination of fresh produce.
These pressures have renewed interest in production systems to extend the harvest season, to reduce chemical inputs, and to ensure consistent fruit quality.
In response, producers are focusing more efforts on developing cultivars with higher fruit quality, better postharvest fruit characteristics, greater resistance to disease and pests, and higher levels of health benefiting phytochemicals.
Top producers are also focusing on a greater diversity of fruit types to market, modified tree architecture to facilitate fruit culture, and adaptation to subtropical and tropical regions of the world.
Consumer trends are also tilting in favour of dried products that can be enjoyed whole, as on-the-go snacks, or as additions to savory and sweet recipes alike.
The crop is either marketed fresh, used as canned and dried fruit, or is manufactured into juice.
Generally, in late spring, you will find cherries and apricots whilst in midsummer, peaches, nectarines, plums will begin to show up, continuing through the end of summer.
In Zimbabwe, the window periods for cherries is August to October; peaches is October to January; nectarines is October and November; and mangoes is November to February.
All agricultural exports must confirm to certain market regulations.
The exporter must ensure that each shipment is accompanied by a complete set of documentation, that is, commercial invoice, packing list, bill of entry, CD1 form, certificate of origin, agro-dealer certificate, phytosanitary certificate, import and export permit.
The Agro-dealer certificate is obtained from the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA), the phytosanitary certificate is obtained from Plant Protection Offices whilst the export permit is obtained from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development.
The exporter must ask for an import permit from their client and these permits are issued for a specific quantity and time period.
The export permit is required by the Plant Health Inspectors at the export points as well as ZIMRA who also enter the quantities exported in their system as the exporter draws down the quantities exported against the quantities specified in the permit.
In other markets, they also require that packaging and labelling requirements are met otherwise the product will be destroyed or returned back at the exporters’ expense.
Traceability is one of the key issues required by the importer and hence the farmers are required to ensure that they put in place mechanism to that effect.
All agricultural produce must meet the food safety and quality standard requirements, like HACCP and GLOBALG.A.P.