Zim-China Citrus exports deal, farmers need more support

Nyasha Mutena

On June 1st 2023, the General Administration of Customs of China released the list of registered Zimbabwean orchards and packhouses for citrus exporting to China. A total of 11 citrus orchards and six citrus packhouses in Zimbabwe were listed among those that will be involved in citrus exports to China.

This is a culmination of the Zim-China citrus protocol which was signed in 2022 to give Zimbabwean companies access to export citrus to China, one of Zimbabwe’s top export destinations. The deal is not only a major boost to trade relations between Zimbabwe and China, which has become the country’s largest foreign direct investment source but a fulfilment of the process that was initiated in 2015 when the country sought a market
for Shashi irrigation scheme smallholder citrus growers.

However, the imbalances that continue to exist in this sector leave a lot to be desired. The deal between Zim and China about citrus involves only a few selected farms/orchards, of which 90 pc is about white farmers. Since it is already dominated by white farmers, even when it expands black farmers will be left behind because most white farmers have finances and resources plus connections of white folk who produce seedlings.

President Mnangagwa declared that thinking along racial lines in farming and land ownership was outdated when he pledged to compensate white farmers for land seized from them under the land reform programme which then points to how blacks can be assisted to ensure they benefit from this mega deal.
China was ranked as the third largest importer of Zimbabwean goods last year, according to the country’s trade pro-motion agency ZimTrade. Overall trade between the two countries surged 29,2 percent year on year to a record high of 2,43 billion US dollars in 2022.

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 Citrus aurantifolia) and sour orange (Citrus aurantium).

In an interview with Agriculture Economist, Dr Prince Kuipa, he highlighted that because citrus fruits
farming is a long-term project, it requires financing which majority of farmers are lacking.

“Fruit tree growing including citrus is long term and as such needs medium to long term financing. This type of financing is not
available from banks and Government supported programs. Security of tenure needs to be addressed.

To invest in these longterm projects, you need to have security of tenure, i.e, that you will be on that piece of land for a long time.

Extension support is also important to impart the skills specific for citrus pro- duction including to meet
the market specific standards”.

He emphasised the need for investment in post-harvest farm infrastructure, including cleaning, sorting and grading facilities which also requires long term financing.

Mr Kuipa added; “Citrus trees need to be irrigated hence the need for the development of irrigation infrastructure and
the need for reliable electricity to power the irrigation systems. The economy also needs to be stabilised to give confidence to farmers to invest knowing that they will recover their costs.

A stable economy with low inflation makes it possible to plan and removes uncertainty.

Tobacco is a seasonal crop and easier to manage in contract farming arrangements with Chinese companies. For citrus the contract farming Model may not be the best because of its long-term nature. The Chinese investors can however get into joint ventures with local black farmers. Joint
ventures are allowed but with the Ministry of Lands’s approval”.

Another Agriculture Economist who requested anonymity echoed the same sentiments. He stated that China could create credit facilities with flexible payback conditions to capacitate farmers to execute citrus farming projects since the only source for seedlings is Dodhill which is owned by whites and is expensive.

“Alternatively you have to go to South Africa. The Government can lobby those with the resources to assist with funds. Those funds can then cascade to black farmers so that they can purchase the necessary chemicals, seedlings etc needed to undertake citrus farming projects,” he added.

On 16 May the Horticultural Development Council, together with Ministry of Lands Agriculture Fisheries Water and Rural Development, representatives of financial institutions and pension funds and other key stakeholders undertook a field visit to highlight an example of the HDC Hub
and Spoke Model for Citrus and the inclusive and revolutionary commercial citrus investment drive being undertaken in Chegutu district.

Through an official briefing statement on the event’s engagements, Horticulture Council of Zimbabwe said once having had 650 hectares under citrus, Chegutu district now only has 127 hectares of citrus orchards producing commercially.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 3 200 hectares of land under commercial citrus production only, yet the country has potential of establishing at least 8 000 to 10 000 hectares by 2030 and a maximum 20 000 hectares over the same period given investment incentives and financing tailor made to fund the long term nature of citrus investment that requires patient capital.

However, all hope is not lost says HDCZ as local investors Sable Park Estates and Dodhill Nurseries, have embarked on establishing a commercial citrus production zone in their home turf of Chegutu district, with support from the Horticultural Development Council and the Ministry of Lands,
Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development.

Since early 2022 their citrus investment drive has been establishing new citrus plantation and supporting irrigation infrastructure on state allocated A2 farms.

Preparation for the citrus hub begun as early as April 2018, when Sable Park Estates secured critical water rights of up to 4 000 mega litres of water from surrounding dams, up until  March 31, 2038 to secure irrigation of the anticipated citrus production hub.

The new investment drive is not only setting up Chegutu’s revival as a key citrus hub in Zimbabwe, but is a boost to government’s Horticulture Recovery and Growth Plan whose objective is to position horticulture as a driver of broad-based economic growth towards a “Middle Class Economy by 2030” in Zimbabwe’s agriculture driven economy, and industry’s strategy to build an inclusive production base, leveraging on the technical expertise within the sector.

This potential growth and investment opportunity is anchored in recent market inroads following Zimbabwe signing protocols to export citrus to China. Even before the Chinese markets we secured in 2022, Dodhill had been in partner-ship with leading exporter of citrus from South Africa, to enable Zimbabwe’s citrus access to as many as 48 country destinations.

Zimbabwe’s citrus has an opportune moment to in-print it global footprint, with local farmers being at the heart of that global reach, thanks to the Chegutu model being developed by the local investors promoting and ring fencing citrus plantations on A2 farms within the identified citrus zone.

This initiative needs to be implemented across the country and this can be possible through adoption of the Chegutu model and availability of investors

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