Dark prospects for Zim’s coffee industry

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Martin Kadzere
The growing of macadamia and avocado in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands have dented prospects of revitalisation of the coffee industry as farmers and corporates are now turning to the high value commodities, a senior official has said.

Until 2000, Zimbabwe was a major exporter of mild Arabica coffee, well known for its balanced acidity and good quality.

Zimbabwe used to contribute about 0,2 percent of the world’s coffee requirements regarded highly and fetched high premiums on global markets.

The industry was built on two distinct models namely, large-scale and smallholder sectors.
At peak, total area under production was 8 000 hectares while output peaked at 14 600 tonnes in 1989.

The sector, largely dominated by white farmers before the land reform programme from 2 000 employed about 20 000 people and exports were mainly to the Netherlands, United State, Germany, South Africa, Canada, Australia and the UK.

Production was largely affected by recurrent droughts, limited irrigation infrastructure and financial support, lack of skills as well as constrained funding for coffee research and extension programmes.

Coffee production was also weighed by rising inputs cost, low producer price and non-structured seed production, which affected quality of seed resulting the upsurge of diseases.

Agriculture deputy minister Davison Marapira told Business Weekly that farmers–both small scale and commercial were turning to more profitable commodities like macadamia and avocado as a result of unfavourable global coffee prices.

“The attention has shifted. People and companies are now focusing on macadamia and avocado and huge plantations are being developed,” said Marapira.

The rush for niche export oriented commodities
Between 2012 and 2016, Zimbabwe’s avocado exports rose 302 percent to $4,2 million from $1 million, largely driven by increased large-scale avocado production in Manicaland, according to figures from ZimTrade.

The major destination markets were The Netherlands, UK France and Germany.
In 2016 Tanganda, a subsidiary of Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed group Meikles said it invested nearly $5 million in the development of new plantations of macadamia and avocado.

In May, Ariston Holdings, another ZSE listed firm said its macadamia volumes were firming.
James Maisiri, an official of a group representing large and small-scale macadamia farmers in Chipinge told Business Weekly the prospects for the commodity were bright.
“Since the markets are promising, we are expecting to increase the hectarage to 10 000 in the next three to five years and this will push up production to 15 000 tonnes per year from the current 8 000 tonnes,” said Maisiri, the secretary for Macadamia Association of Zimbabwe.

Most of Zimbabwe’s macadamia exports are to China and South Africa. Enquires were also coming from Europe, said Maisiri.

Coffee milling industry in dire
Johanne Jori, a director at Zimbabwe Coffee Mill, the remaining processing factory in Mutare said the intake volumes had been significantly affected by low farm output.
He said most of the workers had been sent on leave with a few occasionally called once the company build up reasonable feed stocks.

“There is really nothing coming from the field,” Jori told Business Weekly in an interview.
He said coffee output declined to as low as 400 tonnes last year.

Only two commercial farmers are involved in production, down from 145 prior to the land reform programme.
Small-scale farmers have also gone down from 2 000 to about 400 farmers, largely supported by the non-Governmental organisation, he said.

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