The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a root vegetable rich in vitamins A & C, as well as potassium, which regulates the water and pH balance in our blood. In addition, sweet potato is cholesterol-free, thus appealing to the growing number of health-conscious consumers across the world.
Due to its status as a healthy ethnic and exotic food, sweet potatoes (fresh, frozen or dried) are increasingly in demand, with the European Union (EU) driving this growth. According to a study conducted by ZimTrade, the value of sweet potatoes imported globally recorded an average annual growth of 19% between 2013 and 2017, increasing from US$254 million to US$503 million, whilst the volume doubled from 299,984 tonnes in 2013 to 600,097 tonnes in 2017 (Trade Map).
According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), Nigeria is the second largest producer of sweet potatoes in the world, after China, with production volumes of up to 3.9 million tonnes per year. Despite the large volumes produced by Nigeria, the Sub-Saharan African country has very low export potential to the EU because of the excise duty currently at 1.6%. Zimbabwe, however, has an advantage in that it is a signatory to the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement, which offers duty free, quota free preferential treatment for produce entering the EU market. In addition, Zimbabwe’s climate and soils are ideal conditions for growing the crop. The plant grows well in warm climates which allow the leaves to flourish and provide adequate cover for root growth. Loose soils, well drained soils are essential, with a pH between 5.8 to 6.2.
In 2017, United Kingdom and The Netherlands alone accounted for 42% of the world’s total volume of sweet potato imports, making the EU sweet potato market a good opportunity for growers.
However, reaching the EU demands a strict adherence to market requirements. Most markets have specific variety and quality preferences. The European market largely prefers medium and large varieties that are organically produced, harvested at the right time of the season, and that meet the desired high-quality standards. EU buyers are highly concerned with quality certifications, plant health compliance (phytosanitary requirements), as well as social and environmental certification (e.g. minimal use of pesticides, employee welfare). It is imperative for prospective growers of the sweet potato targeting the EU market to closely observe the market’s requirements, as it is buyers who determine the terms of trade.
Further research done by ZimTrade Market Analysts shows that currently the UK and The Netherlands are being supplied primarily by the USA, Honduras, China, Egypt, South Africa and Senegal amongst others. Although competition is stiff, adherence to market requirements will earn producers a share of this market. Common sweet potato varieties include the American Covington, Georgia Jets and the Spanish Beauregard, which also show varied flesh and skin colour combinations e.g. white, red, orange and yellow.
Publish Date: Tuesday 07 August 2018