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HomeAfricaZimbabwe has greater scope to expand its blueberry exports markets

Zimbabwe has greater scope to expand its blueberry exports markets

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ZIMBABWE, which was once regarded as Southern Africa’s breadbasket, is now carving a new niche in the global food market through blueberries.Image-Pixabay

Trade Focus

By Allan Majuru

This remarkable rise, driven by marked growth in production of the fruit, comes on the back of President Mnangagwa’s commitment to agricultural development and his vision for Zimbabwe to become a key player in the international food supply chain.

In particular, his vision places strong emphasis on diversification and high-value crops.

Blueberries, which do very well under the country’s unique climatic conditions, present a compelling opportunity.

Through targeted policies and support initiatives, the Government has envisioned placing Zimbabwe as a leading supplier of blueberries from the continent.

This has undoubtedly paid off.

Last year, Zimbabwe grabbed headlines as the fastest-growing blueberry exporter, with the growth being sustained by a combination of factors, including Government support, favourable climatic conditions, and research and development, as well as market demand. The country’s blueberry exports grew by 85 percent from US$6,3 million recorded in 2021 to US$11,7 million in 2022, notwithstanding the 1 percent decline in global trade of the product.

Local temperatures, which range from 15 degrees Celsius to 25 degrees Celsius, are ideal for growing blueberries.

The rainfall patterns and soil conditions also support blueberry farming.

Further, Zimbabwe’s location in the Southern African region provides an opportunity for exporting blueberries to other countries in the region and beyond.

The El Niño phenomenon is, however, expected to negatively affect yields and trade in the 2023/2024 farming season.

Global market growth

Peru has consistently been the largest exporter of fresh cranberries, blueberries and similar fruits since 2019, having overtaken Chile. Currently, the South American country contributes approximately 30 percent of the global trade after recording exports worth US$1,35 billion in 2022.

Major export destinations for Peru are the United States (US$703 million), the Netherlands (US$309 million) and China (US$138 million). Experts, however, noted a sharp decline in blueberry exports from Peru in 2023, which had a huge impact on the global blueberry market.

Production volumes declined due to abnormally high air temperatures in production areas, especially during blueberry flowering.

While Peru currently holds the title of the world’s largest blueberry exporter, Zimbabwe’s blueberries are gaining a reputation for being of superior quality.

This presents a strategic opportunity for Zimbabwe to position itself as a premium supplier, fetching higher prices and solidifying its place in the global blueberry market.

After Peru, the Netherlands is now the second-largest exporter, with an 11,6 percent market share, having suffered a 2 percent drop in growth for the period 2021-2022.

The European country’s agriculture sector is known for its innovation and adoption of advanced technologies.

The country’s access to the European Union also gives it a comparative advantage over American producers.

The Chilean blueberry sector has shown signs of distress over the five years under review.

In 2022, the country contributed 10,8 percent to the global blueberry export, although there was a 10 percent decline in growth. Growth is expected to remain subdued for the 2023/2024 season due to the ongoing varietal replacement taking place within the Chilean blueberry industry.

Reports indicate that growers in Chile have uprooted 1 164 hectares of old varieties with lower productivity and poor post-harvest life and have replaced them with 607 hectares of new types.

In Africa, Morocco and South Africa are the largest exporters.

Both countries suffered a decline in exports during the year ending December 2022. Morocco experienced a cold snap during the end of 2022, which severely impacted several crops, including blueberries. Zimbabwe is the 22nd largest exporter of blueberries in the world, but projections are that the country will climb the ladder in the coming years as existing orchards mature.

Despite the existing constraints, as well as the increase in the cost of production and drop in returns for other countries, Zimbabwe has thrived in export markets. Some farmers have noted that the main challenge experienced in the 2022 farming season included erratic power supply, which affected irrigation in some orchards.

Zimbabwe has been expanding its export markets for blueberries, particularly targeting European and Middle Eastern countries.

Access to these lucrative markets has boosted the competitiveness of locally produced blueberries by increasing their visibility and demand on an international scale. The country’s diverse agroecological zones allow for year-round production of blueberries, giving a competitive advantage in meeting market demand.

Changes in climate patterns could negatively impact blueberry production, just as the ongoing El Niño-induced drought that has affected farmers across the country.

However, this also presents an opportunity for research into climate-resilient varieties. To meet export standards, local growers and exporters are heavily investing in on-farm and near-farm cold-chain infrastructure to meet food safety standards and quality requirements while reducing losses.

Although the country has access to several markets, expanding into new ones could provide further growth opportunities. This would require strategic planning and undertaking export promotion programmes to position the locally grown fruit on the global market.

So, farmers must take optimum advantage of export promotion services offered by ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion agency, and its local and international partners.

Allan Majuru is the chief executive officer of ZimTrade.

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