Zimbabwe is now the biggest exporter of blueberries in the SADC region supplying 5 000 tonnes a year, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Dr John Basera, said yesterday.
Speaking during a tour of the Palmlife Blueberry Project at Ivanhoe Farm in Goromonzi, Dr Basera said there was need to put more hectares under blueberries.
The farm has 45ha under blueberries and produces more than 1 000 tonnes annually. There are other farmers around the countries who produce blueberries.
The blueberry is a small dark blue berry indigenous to North America, but now spread as a cultivated crop around the world. It is a perennial plant related to the cranberry and the huckleberry. World production is over 850 000 tonnes a year.
Dr Basera gave blueberries as an example of the horticultural crop where Zimbabwe needed to expand production being a high value crop that suited the Zimbabwean climate and conditions.
High-quality fresh vegetables and fruit often need to be airlifted to get to markets while still fresh, and so need to be of high-value to justify the costs.
When Zimbabwe’s horticulture exports were a lot higher and included a lot of products that lose freshness in a few days, there were both special chartered flights plus the use of cargo space on scheduled air services, generally available as larger quantities of other goods were flown into Zimbabwe than flown out.
“We are inspecting the horticulture recovery growth in motion and we believe that we are moving in the right direction in terms of getting back to those glory numbers where Zimbabwe used to export US$143 million a year in terms of horticultural exports,” said Dr Basera.
“Currently we are sitting at around US$60 million to US$70 million a year and we need to double that in the next year. By 2025 we need to approach US$500 million. Blueberry is one of those high value horticultural options which we definitely need to promote.
“We have many advantages as Zimbabwe in terms of the geographical and climate advantages. We need to promote more hectarage under blueberries and we believe that horticulture is a low hanger in achieving some of the objectives of Vision 2030.”
Dr Basera said there was a need to ramp up and have diversity in exports targeting high value crops like blueberries.
“We are also the top producer of high quality blueberries and according to the ZimTrade report, Zimbabwean blueberries sell like hot cakes and are in high demand.”
Ivanhoe Farm owner and DripTech managing director Mr Bob Henson said they started the project two-and-a-half years ago.
“We have not been able to get foreign currency to run our businesses so we thought we need to get into a net foreign currency earner,” he said.
“This crop costs about US$100 000 per hectare to plant and it will yield that much foreign currency every year going forward. This year we are expecting to export between 1 000 to 1 200 tonnes of blueberries.
“The total Zimbabwean production is 5 000 tonnes and we export to Russia and the Middle East, but most of our exports go to a company in the United Kingdom for distribution across Europe.
“On average a kilogramme costs between US$2,50 and US$6 depending on demand. We have created 1 000 jobs and we want to repeat the same model across the country because we want to work with communities.
“We are looking at building a school and a clinic as part of upgrading the general lifestyle of people in our communities,” said Mr Henson.