Harnessing export potential in blueberries
Zimbabwe is looking to grow it exports by participating in lucrative markets, riding on areas the country enjoys competitive and comparative advantage.
By no doubt, the country’s horticulture sector is one of the areas that have potential to contribute more towards the national export growth.
The National Export Strategy, launched by President Mnangagwa in 2019, identifies the horticulture sector as a priority sector for export development and promotion.
To unlock the potential in horticulture sector, the Second Republic has since launched the Horticulture Recovery and Growth Plan, whose priority is to stimulate “export growth to trigger foreign exchange earnings and employment creation taking advantage of the available more lucrative markets for Zimbabwean products.”
This potential is however easily harnessed if local farmers partake in high-value crops, whose demand is surging in international markets.
With the buzzword currently being superfood, there are opportunities for local farmers to take a leading role in supplying major markets around the world with products that are known to have strong immune boosting properties.
People around the world are increasingly becoming health conscious and as such, food trends have shown a bias towards the healthier options.
This has also brought prominence to what are called superfoods which are said to help promote health by increasing your immune function and decrease your chance of disease prevention or progression.”
Blueberries are currently the poster for such superfoods, with the market for this dark berry growing significantly over the past few years.
This is because blueberries have been said to have properties that protect against heart disease and cancer, and are believed to help maintain bone strength, mental health, and healthful blood pressure.
What are blueberries?
Blueberries are perennial flowering plants with blue to blue-black skin that is covered by a waxy bloom, giving the fruit a light blue appearance.
The flesh is creamy-white to green in colour and juicy. The plants are usually prostrate shrubs that can vary in size from 10cm to 4m in height.
Blueberry bushes normally bear fruit in the middle of the growing season and fruiting times are determined by local conditions such as altitude and latitude.
Blueberries are sold fresh or processed as individually quick-frozen fruit, purée, juice, or dried or infused berries, which in turn may be used in a variety of consumer goods, such as jam and jelly amongst others.
For the fresh market, usually the fruit should be fully blue and firm, and size specifications vary depending on buyer specifications.
Blueberries are non-climacteric fruit but should be harvested near to full ripe as flavour does not improve after harvest.
Benefits of blueberries
Blueberries contain a type of flavonoid called anthocyanin which what gives the fruit many of its health benefits.
Flavonoids are a diverse group of phytonutrients which have beneficial anti-inflammatory effects and often have a powerful antioxidant effect.
According to Megan Ware from Medical News, blueberries have various health benefits which seem to be related to the latest health trends especially in the developed world markets.
Blueberries are believed to help skin, heart and mental health, bone strength, diabetes and blood pressure management, and it is also believed to help in cancer prevention.
A cup of blueberries also provides about 24 percent of a person’s Vitamin C recommended daily allowance, five percent of vitamin B6 and 36 percent of vitamin K.
Blueberries are also believed to have large quantities of bioactive compounds which then places them high on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI).
This is an index which rates foods based on their mineral and vitamin content, phytochemical composition, as well as antioxidant capacity.
Foods which have the most nutrients per calorie will have the highest rankings, and blueberries are placed among the top fruits and vegetables for nutrient density, with an ANDI score of 132.
Blueberries are among the most nutrient-dense berries and are incredibly healthy and nutritious.
They boost heart health, brain function and numerous other aspects of your body and more importantly, they’re sweet, colorful and easily palatable and enjoyable.
Blueberries are predominantly grown under two main options, which are Production of ‘Licensed varieties’ and ‘Open variety’ ranges.
The licensed varieties are basically a restricted type where the grower enters into a contractual agreement with a particular company.
The arrangements are usually such that the grower will source inputs, including plant materials and other stipulated materials from the company and thereafter is given guidelines for production which the grower/farmer is mandated to follow.
Such an arrangement usually also then provides for an offtake agreement for supply of the produce.
Such arrangements also provide for various variety options for the grower, with different varieties having varying advantages over the others.
For example, some varieties will produce larger berries, some will produce sweeter fruits while some might either be early or late yielding varieties and so usually a grower must be aware of the market requirements which usually specify all such details.
Various licensed varieties are currently present in Zimbabwe, coming from companies such as BerryWorld, Fall Creek, and Costa.
The alternative option is for one to grow the open varieties.
Production under the ‘open variety’ is done in such a way that the grower has no contractual agreement with a particular company and produces so openly.
The main difference from the licensed variety is that the farmer is responsible for marketing of the produce as there is no offtake agreement which comes with a decision/agreement to grow that particular variety.
Current Production and Market Options
The world blueberry market currently stands at about US$5.2 billion with the largest markets being United States of America, Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom and Canada.
According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), the EU blueberry market has expanded rapidly over the past years.
CBI notes that EU’s import of blueberries increased from 45,000 tons in 2015 to 113,000 tons in 2019. From 2018 to 2019 alone, the import volume jumped by 41 percent.
In value terms, The Netherlands’ imports of blueberries increased by 210 percent between 2015 and 2019 from US$168 million to US$523 million.
Imports by the Netherlands are usually for both for the internal market and re-export.
Zimbabwe has been playing its part in the global market increasing local production of the superfood.
From recording no exports of the product prior to 2016, according to Trade Map, the country moved to US$212,000 in 2017, US$5.5million in 2019, the figure doubling to US$11.1million in 2020 and US$13.6million in 2021.
Most of these exports are to the EU, going mostly to The Netherlands and the United Kingdom and some exports going to South Africa, all countries of which are members of trade agreements which Zimbabwe is also a member of.
Zimbabwe’s current production has a lot of potential to grow exponentially, as well taking advantage of the continued growth in demand, while making sure to reap the benefits of this superfood, before it becomes a commodity rather than a cash crop.
For suppliers, there is need to take advantage of the strong demand, but at the same time count on prices slowly declining due to increasing availability of blueberries worldwide.
Therefore, before the blueberry train leaves, Zimbabwe needs to come to the party and latch on to this ‘sweet’ market.