Zim to start China citrus exports next month Sixty containers of oranges mainly from Mazowe district would be shipped from Beira next month. – Picture: ZimTrade.

Edgar Vhera-Agriculture Specialist Writer

CONSUMATION of the Zimbabwe-China citrus trade protocol starts this April with the first trial container shipments going to the Asian country through the port of Beira in Mozambique.

Horticultural Development Council (HDC) chief executive officer Mrs Linda Nielsen revealed this recently when she gave updates on citrus exports to China.

“We are cautiously optimistic with this trial run. Beira has come a long way over the past few years. In future we will also be looking at other sectors to go through there as well. Citrus is more ready than the other products,” said Mrs Nielsen.

“This is our first season of sending citrus to China, it’s quite exciting. Indications are that we will start with 40 containers to test the China route this season, all requiring cold sterilisation in transit (on sea),” added Mrs Nielsen. 

For sustainability and lowering of transactional costs, it is hoped that there will be empty trucks returning to Beira that will be able to take citrus, observed Mrs Nielsen.

The port of Beira, ranked best-performing port in Southern Africa by the World Bank.

HDC and Citrus Growers Association of Zimbabwe (CGAZ) are in discussions with a number of shipping lines at the moment.

Mrs Nielsen said it had been eye-opening to see how well-organised the port was, adding that Beira might be ideal for blueberry exports in future.

She said in the past blueberry season, challenges at the port of Durban in South Africa delayed Zimbabwean blueberries by three weeks and cost growers their slim marketing window in Europe ahead of Peru.

“Blueberries need controlled atmosphere, so we will be looking to encourage investment in cold storage facilities at Beira,” remarked Linda. 

According to a report from FreshPlaza the trial shipments kick off in April with 30 containers of lemons from Chegutu and Mazowe districts in Mashonaland West and Central provinces respectively, with the same amount also set to be exported in May.

The report says 60 containers of oranges mainly from Mazowe district would be shipped from Beira, Mozambique’s second largest port in June.

“From July to September growers in Beitbridge district will join the trial with 70 percent of the 500 containers of oranges planned for that period for Beira, thus avoiding the Durban port during peak citrus flow. 

“The other 30 percent will be made up of oranges from Mazowe district,” added the report.

Landside costing from Beitbridge to Beira will determine the viability for this area. This season growers will be testing all the processes and procedures before they start bulking up their volumes. 

According to the report the port of Beira is ranked best-performing port in Southern Africa by the World Bank. 

Shipping protocols to mitigate against fruit fly and false codling moth are strict – 0,6 degrees Celsius pulp temperature for no less than 24 days for all citrus types except lemons, which are sensitive to cold damage and need to have a three degrees Celsius pulp temperature for not less than 18 consecutive days.

The bulk of citrus exports to China for now will still go via Durban due to cold sterilisation protocols. 

The Government of Zimbabwe and China finalised the citrus trade protocol last year that is meant to facilitate exports of citrus products to the Asian country in order to broaden market scope for the country.

This was in fulfilment of the process that was initiated in 2015 when the country sought a market for Shashi irrigation scheme smallholder citrus growers.

The Chinese market has the added advantage of short distance but to capitalise on these there is need to build up volumes of the citrus product for the Mozambique port.

The need for the country’s perishable horticulture products to shift from being shipped via the Durban port to Beira in Mozambique or even Walvis Bay in Namibia deserves thorough attention if events of unrest and disturbances that affected the Durban port in 2021 are to be avoided. 

Many growers lost incomes due to delays at the port with some of the produce destroyed as they had passed their sell-by dates.

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