Martin Kadzere Senior Business Reporter
Horticultural companies are pushing for compulsory accreditation of fruit and vegetable exporters to ensure they comply with international food safety standards.
According to industrialists, lack of robust controls may result in Zimbabwe failing to comply with global food safety standards and this may damage the country’s reputation.
Zimbabwe has made significant strides in re-entering global markets particularly the European Union, the world’s largest consumer of fresh produce, but industry players have warned that failure to put in place tough controls may destroy market confidence.
“Some people don’t want to pay for accreditation fees but we are killing the industry,” said Mr Edwin Moyo, director at Rolex Zimbabwe, a leading exporter of fresh produce.
“If a product from a Zimbabwean farm fails to meet food safety standards on the international market, the whole country will be blacklisted. As such we want all exporters to be accredited. We do not want to destroy market confidence that we are rebuilding and we will soon be engaging the Standards Association of Zimbabwe to help us.”
The country has been recording growth of fresh produce exports to the European Union after the bloc imposed restrictions on fresh products from Kenya over use of banned chemicals.
Kenya is one of Africa’s largest fresh produce exporters and enjoys about 10 percent of the EU market share. It earned about $1 billion from fresh produce exports in 2014.
“If we don’t put in place controls, we will have a disaster like what happened in Kenya,” said Mr Moyo.
A Rusape based peas and beans farmer said obtaining accreditation from a reputable global standard institution would help local exporters to improve access to global markets.
“International markets are quite sensitive to food safety issues and it will be good for the industry to push for compulsory accreditation,” said the farmer. “I would also like to believe that earning a good reputation is the cornerstone for recovery of the industry.”
According to Zimtrade, there is huge scope to increase Zimbabwe’s market share in the EU market given the country’s good climatic conditions, which are conducive for fresh produce.
It said local companies could also utilize the duty free and quota free access applied to Zimbabwe’s exports to the EU region under the interim Economic Partnership Agreement.
The EU, which comprises 28 member states, is the largest economic bloc in the world with gross domestic product per capita of $27 696 for its strong consumer base of 500 million.
Zimbabwe’s horticultural industry has been on a rebound since 2010 following successive years of recession, which started on the turn of the millennium. Air cargo exports have been rising since 2012 mainly driven by vegetables and flowers.
Zimbabwe used to be one of the largest exporters of a wide range of horticultural products in Africa, supplying overseas markets including Europe and the Middle East.
For instance, citrus exports peaked in 2001 at 45 000 tonnes, being 60 percent of fresh produce output. Zimbabwe also became a valuable exporter of cut flowers, and by 2001, it was ranked as the second largest in Africa, behind Kenya, second among African, Caribbean and Pacific exporters, and was the fifth biggest exporter to the EU.
Government also supporting the revival of the once vibrant horticulture sector, through provision of fiscal incentives in the form of incremental exports of horticultural products.
Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the Government revival strategy aims at localizing the global gap quality standard, a voluntary certification for various agricultural products, which should unlock access to export markets.
At its peak, horticulture was a major foreign currency earner, contributing 2,6 percent of GDP in 2005. However, by 2014, the sector’s exports had gone down to $10,2 million.