The country’s horticulture sector recorded significant growth in 2018. More than $112 million worth of produce was exported, up from $50.9 million in 2017. Of that total, berries exports raked in US$4 million. This is a huge jump from US$370 000 recorded in 2017. For a country desperate to ramp up its foreign currency earnings, this is good news.

According to Zimtrade’s monthly newsletter, the ZimTrading Post, the major export berries were blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. “Due to their shelf-life, blueberries can easily be transported via sea freight. This decreases the carbon footprint as well as reducing freight costs by around 60% and allows for competitive pricing by producers. Other berries like raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries tend to have shorter shelf-life and therefore need to be transported via air freight which tends to be more expensive,” Zimtrade said.

Blueberries market

The market for blueberries and other berries is very large. Dr Kees Van’t Kloosterz, an expert from PUM, a Netherlands consultancy advised that blueberries have a higher market value than other berries. “There is, however, need for collaboration between the farms already producing and those wishing to venture into berries as the market is too large for local farmers to be competing,” he said. The global market for blueberries was estimated to be worth US$2.73 billion in 2017 and South Africa ranked as the largest African exporter of blueberries to the European Union. The USA alone imported US$842 million worth of fresh blueberries in 2017. In fact, so large is the horticulture market that the Netherlands actually re-exports to other European countries.

Zimbabwe’s unique position

Farmers in Zimbabwe are in a unique position to take advantage of a number of factors in order to reap meaningful benefits from berries exports. The country has a large land area suitable for berry production. Farmers can also take advantage of the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA) which allows for duty-free and quota-free access to European Union markets. The European market itself is increasingly appreciating the blueberry fruit because of its health and wellness attributes. As such, blueberries are considered to be among the superfoods. Unfortunately, government policy such as export retention thresholds seems to be discouraging potential exporters.

With proper support and focus, Zimbabwean farmers stand a chance to earn more foreign currency through horticulture in general and berries in particular. The market is big enough.