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Citrus exporters explore affordable ways to access Chinese market

Edgar Vhera

Agriculture Specialist Writer

THE country’s citrus products are yet to debut on the lucrative Chinese market in fulfilment of the Zimbabwe-China citrus trade protocol signed in 2023 with exporters currently seized with evaluating options to access the market at affordable costs.

The Horticultural Development Council (HDC) chief executive officer Mrs Linda Nielsen revealed this recently while giving updates on the citrus trade protocol.

“The protocol signed between Zimbabwe and China in 2022 represents a significant opportunity for the growth of the country’s citrus industry. However, it is important to note that citrus exports to China are yet to begin, as the industry is currently evaluating various options to access this important market at an affordable cost to our growers. Currently, high logistics costs make the cost chain unviable for Zimbabwean exporters,” the HDC boss said.

Logistics can generally by defined as the process of planning and executing the efficient conveyance and storage of goods from the point of origin to final consumption. The logistics costs can be significantly lowered if the country’s citrus exports were to be done via the short port of Beira. This is currently not happening as the port of Beira has no approved cold sterilisation facilities that are required by the Chinese market.

Mrs Nielsen, however, indicated that the country had successfully exported 15 containers of lemons to the United Arab Emirates from the port of Beira since the start of the season.

“A major milestone was the export of a small consignment of 15 containers to Jebel Ali (UAE) through Beira, the first such exports in 25 years. This has allowed proof of concept through Beira for lemons to the Middle Eastern market, as lemons do not require cold sterilisation. Zimbabwe can only consider this as a new route to market for the European Union (EU) and China once there has been significant investment in cold storage facilities, as other citrus products have very strict cold-sterilisation requirements for these markets,” Mrs Nielsen added.

The HDC 2023 quarterly seasonal update for June highlighted that shipments through the Beira route had been resuscitated this season after a 25-year hiatus in a report titled ‘New route to market through Beira opened.’

The report said it took 18 hours on average to move the goods from Zimbabwe to Beira port by road in the absence of challenges with transport, at the border or the packing facilities.

“Each container is packed cautiously over a 2-hour period with many photos taken prior to shipment and during the packing process with videos of temperature logger placement and start-ups. The average dwell time of the containers once packed to being shipped on board is currently nine days, of which seven are in our facility and two in the port prior to loading,” continued the seasonal report.

It further indicated that lemons were shipped using three different vessels with the first two averaging 27 days’ transit time to destination, while the third vessel took only 21 days. 

“This transit time is higher than the usual average for that destination due to the current low export season out of Beira but will revert back to normal transit time of 16 days. We feel there is potential for a lot more volumes to be exported out of Beira,” read the report.

Zimbabwe and China last year signed a citrus trade protocol that was initiated in 2015 for the export of oranges for smallholder growers under the Shashi Irrigation Scheme.

The fresh citrus products to be exported to China from Zimbabwe include sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), lemon (Citrus limon and aurantifolia) and sour orange (Citrus aurantium). The General Administration of Customs of China also released a list of registered Zimbabwean orchards and packhouses for fresh citrus exports to China.

The opening of the Chinese market has given the country more options to use the short Mozambican port of Beira if cold sterilisation conditions are met and significant volumes are produced.

Current citrus exports to China are happening via the port of Durban, as cold sterilisation standards at the Beira Port are not in conformity with the Zimbabwe-China citrus trade protocol.


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