Last year Zimbabwe emerged as a major player in the global production of horticulture produce, despite faltering in other agriculture sectors.

For years Zimbabwe has staked its agriculture hopes in the production of grain as part of efforts to feed itself. However, despite million-dollar investments in grain production, the country has struggled to turn the corner and boost its forex earnings.

While grain production has been the government’s major talking point, other sectors have been silently making inroads into international markets.

The troubled Southern African country was announced last year as a leader in the export of blueberries at a time when agriculture faces mounting challenges that include climate change and poor financing.

Before the farm interruptions brought by the land reform programme more than two decades ago, horticulture formed the mainstay of the country’s green economy. In the intervening years the sector has not been spared the hardships that have struck all economic activity, with industry players reassessing how the sector can be reclaimed.

After years of false starts, horticulture has become a major foreign currency earner next to tobacco remaining the country’s flag bearer of agriculture exports.

According to the Horticulture Development Council which brings together various industry players, the sector brought in more than USD120 million in 2022 in exports.

The country has seen a spike in the production of citrus fruits, avocados, macadamia nuts, and blueberries that have attracted markets as far as the European Union and the Far East.

According to some reports, in 2022 the country earned a little over USD4 million from macadamia nuts exports, a huge achievement by Zimbabwe’s standards.

The Horticulture Development Council is riding on this good fortune and is projecting a billion-dollar sector by 2030.

Despite the upbeat outlook, industry players are concerned that this fine run could hit the skids in the absence of sustained financial injection into the capital-intensive sector.

Last November, Stabley Heri, the Horticulture Development Council President told a horticulture conference in the Harare that while all commitment was there to upscale exports, finance would determine the direction of the sector.

Horticulture has emerged as one of the few economic sectors that offer promise in an environment beset by ever growing challenges, from access to foreign currency to import inputs to legislation that has discouraged investment.

The Horticulture Development Council says while exports are likely to grow, the sector will require billions more in the form of agriculture finance to meet its 2030 targets.

The horticulture sector is highly specialised, with countries such as China and the European Union demanding international quality control standards.

In that regard, the European Union, one of Zimbabwe’s major horticulture markets, is providing technical advice and support to the sector, while the European Investment Bank is financing some of the sector’s projects.

Pete Breinstein, President of the Citrus Growers Association, says the sector is aiming to revive up to ten thousand hectares of land that had been set aside before the violent land invasions of the year 2000.

Such ambitions have highlighted the sector’s potential to return the country to a major exporter of green produce.

Before the land reform programme, agriculture was Zimbabwe’s major foreign currency earner, and in recent years the government has touted the sector as a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Government has also formulated the Horticulture Recovery and Growth Plan as part of broader plans to grow the agriculture sector.

The improved horticulture exports will come as good news to Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube who in 2022 noted a decline in agriculture exports and complained about the country’s overreliance on minerals for forex earnings.

Despite agricultural challenges and poor financing, Zimbabwe has been announced as a lead exporter of blueberries (source: Pexels)