- Horticulture incentives are credited with increasing export earnings by 12%
- Protracted power outages have increased operating costs for the horticulture industry
- More horticulture crops were planted in the most recent agricultural season
Harare - Horticulture incentives were suspended as part of the measures included in the 2023 monetary policy, and this act will further impair the momentum the horticulture sector had accumulated over the previous few years. The incentives are credited with increasing export earnings by 12% from US$72.9 million to US$81.6 million in 2022.
The current measures will water down the possibility of growing the horticulture sector in the country into a billion-dollar sector by 2030 since such feet will need the sector to grow by 30% each year.
Horticulture has the potential to be a key element of food security, which in turn could support the well-being of millions of people and offer creative solutions to the problems posed by climate change, which has afflicted the world and left a trail of droughts that have exacerbated food insecurity in the past. The monetary policy for 2023 further demonstrates how, in contrast to other developing countries, the country has consistently neglected and undervalued the horticultural industry.
Protracted power outages have also increased operating costs for the industry since horticulture depends on consistent electricity to run cold rooms and sustain the cold chain. Moreover, power is required to run pumps that pump water to irrigate crops during the day as well as to run scales, computers, heat sealers, conveyors, and packing sheds.
Additionally, the industry must still deal with high input costs, fluctuating exchange rates between the US dollar and the euro, high freight costs, and a lack of readily available capital.
The horticultural sector has the potential to be worth billions to the Zimbabwean economy and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs. Horticulture can lead the country towards net zero, deliver skilled green jobs, and innovate to put Zimbabwe on the map as a science superpower. However, the future for the sector at this point looks compromised even though Zimbabwe is a country that relies heavily on agriculture.
The agriculture industry in Zimbabwe has historically been fundamental to its economic development. About 70% of the population relies on farming as their primary source of income, and it also makes a large contribution to GDP by providing the majority (60%) of the inputs used in the food processing industry. Given its influence on the rest of the economy, agriculture must therefore continue to be a top priority sector.
In this regard food insecurity, has, however, been continually expanding in Zimbabwe. For example, throughout the period 2015 to 2020, it is anticipated that the proportion of food-insecure secure rural populations ranged between 30% and 59%. Urban vulnerability was also on the rise reaching 30% or 2,2 million people by 2020. In 2021 food insecurity fell to 26% following a good agricultural season although in 2022 indications were it fluctuated between 40-60%. Thus horticulture should be taken seriously to mitigate the effects of climate change because it is influencing such erratic changes in the agricultural sector.
Horticulture generated US 130 million at its peak in 2000 before falling to 20 million in 2009. This demonstrates that Zimbabwe is a sleeping giant in the horticulture industry and that more has to be done by the government to resuscitate it. Since it is now working far below its potential, the horticulture sector in particular, which traditionally ranks as Zimbabwe's fifth-largest export contributor, has the potential to provide far larger foreign exchange gains. Zimbabwe was the world's third largest horticultural producer until 2002, after only the Netherlands and Ecuador, but we have since lost that position for obvious reasons. Cut flowers, vegetables, herbs, spices, and citrus fruits were among the main exports.
Since Zimbabwe is geographically and climatically positioned to produce fresh and clean products on good soils, pristine water, and a variety of climatic circumstances, the horticulture sector may grow exponentially. In the past, these mixtures helped the country create distinctive and delicious food and spices, which helped the horticultural industry stand out.
In general, more horticulture crops were planted in the most recent agricultural season, according to the first seasonal crop and livestock and fisheries assessment report. This occurs at a time when the government is reportedly working with farmers and the private sector to restore horticulture output with an emphasis on exports and better household nutrition as part of the National Development Strategy1.
To increase the sector's size to about 143 million by 2024, the government is also said to have provided 30 million dollars from Special Drawing Rights (funded by the International Monetary Fund). However, the 2023 monetary policies and electricity woes will undoubtedly reverse the momentum that the horticulture sector had gleaned. We need a paradigm shift in the way we finance agriculture. Many times, facilities are available, but they are burdensome for farmers—many of whom may not have the collateral banks require—expensive in terms of interest rates and fees, and too short-term to give farmers enough time to develop their land and boost productivity and thereby give them enough time to generate respectable cash inflows to service the loans. Most farmers are unable to get funding as a result.
The bottom line is that, unless we take a new approach to maximizing the potential in our agricultural sector, we will not be able to feed our citizens and achieve food security despite our agricultural endowments. So what can be done?
To begin with, the government needs to focus on creating efficient and sustainable growing systems and practices. This includes the use of new technologies and techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and vertical farming. Sustainable farming practices can include utilizing cover crops to increase soil fertility, using drought-tolerant varieties of crops, and diversifying crops to achieve greater resilience to climate change. Increasing access to agricultural credit by the government can be achieved by providing incentives to lenders and relaxing requirements for borrowers. Additionally, investing in infrastructural development is key and this may include providing irrigation systems, better storage facilities, and access to new technologies, like artificial intelligence.
Investing in additional education and training of farmers is another way to improve the horticulture sector in Zimbabwe. Training programs can help farmers to gain the necessary skills to adopt more sustainable farming practices and utilize new technologies. Additionally, government policies can be implemented to support the development of new markets and the improvement of food production and processing systems. Additionally, providing incentives for diversifying into horticulture-related businesses, such as floriculture, can encourage more people to take up this sector.
To sustain long-term growth in Zimbabwe’s horticulture sector, it is important to collaborate with agricultural research organizations and international agencies that are willing to share their technical know-how and best practices with local farmers. Additionally, forming strong partnerships with private sector actors, including agribusinesses, can help provide funding and infrastructure to help smallholder farmers transition towards a more horticulture-based economy. Furthermore, it is important to focus on building stronger agricultural infrastructure and value chains, as this can help improve market access for horticultural produce.
Thus horticulture can improve food security by providing a nutritious and diverse range of foods. Growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs can provide a balanced diet and ensure a variety of foods are available. Additionally, horticulture is an extremely sustainable form of food production as it uses less water, land, and energy than most other forms of agriculture. Furthermore, horticulture can help to increase local employment opportunities, enhance incomes, and reduce food insecurity in local communities.
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