Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector is one of the key sectors that are identified as having potential to contribute more towards the national export growth.
In particular, 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.”
To ensure that the Recovery and Growth Plan achieves its intended goal of stimulating domestic and export horticulture production and productivity, there is need to focus on products that have a high demand across the world.
Across the world, there is a growing demand for organic foods among consumers, as more people are becoming health conscious and looking for products that are high in nutrients and low in calories.
Consumers are becoming more aware of foods containing synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and are switching to organic foods, which is driving the market growth of organic farming that is devoid of the chemicals used in crops.
Organic farming is generally understood to be an agricultural method that aims to produce food using natural substances and processes.
This means that organic farming practices tends to have a limited environmental impact as it encourages the responsible use of energy and natural resources, the maintenance of biodiversity, preservation of regional ecological balances, enhancement of soil fertility and maintenance of water quality.
Further to this, there is a generally agreed global position that organic farming offers more opportunities to developing countries and improves livelihoods, particularly of rural communities.
This is because organic farming encourages locally adapted management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, which in most cases is cheaper and affordable for most farmers.
Thus, by focusing on organic produce, there is potential to integrate smallholder farmers and rural communities into national exports.
As part of this integration ZimTrade, the national trade development promotion organization, is working with smallholder famers in Rusitu Valleys on an organic pineapple project that is earmarked for the European market.
Here, ZimTrade, together with its partners are helping smallholder farmers in the rural community to have their products organic certified, which will make it easy to penetrate the European market and earn a premium price.
The project, which is not in its final stages will be replicated across the country, focusing on different products – such as garlic, ginger, and turmeric – across the country.
Understanding organic farming
The International Trade Centre defines organic agriculture as “a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity.”
“This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials.”
Using these methods is however not enough for export markets as only products that have been certified are considered organic.
Organic certification is a procedure for verifying that the production process conforms to certain standards. In other words, certification is primarily an acknowledgement that these products have been produced according to organic production standards.
Thus, local farmers who are looking to unlock value in organic produce must ensure they are certified first by international bodies such as Ecocert and USDA, otherwise they will not be able to sustain the claim that their products are organic.
Global trade in organic produce
According to the 2020 Organic Industry Survey released by the Organic Trade Association, the United States of America (USA) is the largest market for organic foods.
Other top global markets for organic foods are Germany, France, China, Italy, Canada, Netherlands. Switzerland, UK, Sweden, and Spain.
Data released by the European Commission recently shows that the European Union bloc imported 2.79 million tons of organic agri-food products in 2020, compared to the 2.85 million tons imported in 2019.
Commodities (which include cereals, vegetable oils and oilseeds, sugars, milk powders and butter, unroasted coffee, and cocoa) represented 48 percent of 2020 imports in terms of volume and 29 percent in terms of value.
As for other primary products (including meat products, fruit, vegetables, milk yoghurt and honey), they accounted for 42 percent of imports in terms of volume and 53 percent in terms of value.
Tropical fruit, nuts and spices representing 30 percent of volume or 0.84 million tons, followed by oilcakes (8 percent or 0.23 million tons), beet and cane sugar (7 percent or 0.19 million tons) and vegetables (5 percent or 0.15 million tons).
Furthermore, according to the European Union Agricultural market brief, in terms of market destinations, the largest volume of organic products still enters the EU through the Netherlands, with 31 percent of imports.
Already, Netherlands is the largest importer of Zimbabwean horticultural produce, which should make it easy for local producers to use existing channels to increase exports of organic produce.
Netherlands is also the world’s largest re-exporter of horticultural produce and local producers of organic produce can use the country to supply the rest of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
Following Netherlands on imports of organic products in 2020 were Germany, Belgium, and France, each taking 18 percent, 11 percent, and 10 percent, respectively.
Import requirements in Europe
In the European Community, Regulation EEC 2092/91 determines the minimum requirements for organic farming in all the member states and is a directly applicable law.
It contains standards for production, processing, imports, inspection and certification, marketing and labelling of organic products.
Organic food products originating from non-European Community (EC) countries may be imported and marketed in the EC with an organic label if it is accepted that the products are produced and certified according to procedures equivalent to those of the EC.
Under Regulation EEC 2092/91, there are, in practice, two options to gain authorization to export organic products to the EC.
The first option states that when a third country has established and implemented organic standards, it may apply to the European Commission for inclusion into the EC List of Article 11.
Known as the Article 11 list, countries on this list can export products certified by an approved domestic certification body to the European Community without the need for additional certification or accreditation.
The second option states that if the exporting country is not on the Article 11 list, the exporter should ask its importer in the European Community country to apply for an individual permit for import.
An individual EC member state may authorize an importer to import products from a country not on the Article 11 list. body.
In Zimbabwe organic certification can be carried out by certification bodies such as Ecocert based in South Africa.
Other requirements for exporting organic produce
In addition to the above requirements, which are specific to organic products, organic fruit and vegetables destined for export should meet the usual requirements concerning all fresh fruit and vegetables, whether organic or conventional.
Import requirements depend on both the product and the country of origin. In general, a phytosanitary certificate issued by an official of the exporting country must accompany all fruit and vegetable shipments.
This official will be able to determine if the fruit or vegetable can be exported to the country of destination and what phytosanitary requirements must be met.
Fruits and vegetables exported to the Europe, Japan or the United States must meet import requirements relating to size, grade, quality, and maturity.
A certificate based on an inspection must be issued by the country’s relevant authority to indicate compliance with standards.
Further to this, there are requirements regarding pesticides and other contaminants as most countries have established standards for tolerances for pesticides, herbicide and fungicides used in the production and treatment of agricultural products.