Zimbabwe should take advantage of the growing global demand for organic crops to boost production of horticulture crops that are free from synthetic materials such as herbicides and enhance rural incomes, ZimTrade, the country's export promotion body said.
With consumers becoming more concerned about their health, demand for organic foods including fruits and vegetables have risen steadily in the past 10 years.
"Currently, there is a growing demand for organic foods among consumers, as more people are becoming health conscious and looking for products that are high in nutrients and low in calories," ZimTrade chief executive Mr Allan Majuru said.
"Consumers are also becoming more aware of foods containing synthetic pesticides and fertilisers and are switching to organic foods, which is driving the market growth of organic farming that is devoid of the chemicals used in crops. By focusing on organic produce, there is potential for the horticulture sector to increase its contribution to national exports, riding on improved production by smallholder farmers and rural communities," Mr Majuru added.
To boost production and exports of horticulture, Mr Majuru said ZimTrade was working on cluster development in various provinces to provide growth opportunities to small-holder farmers.
For example, as part of the programme to integrate farmers into the export business, ZimTrade facilitated for rural farmers in Ndiyadzo to attain an Ecocert Organic Standard, which will unlock market access to Europe.
"This attainment of the organic certification is a critical milestone in reaching the lucrative organic fruit market, especially in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, and other emerging markets such as the United Arab Emirates," said Mr Majuru.
"With the organic standard, smallholder pineapple farmers operating under Rusitu Valley Fruit Growers and Marketing Trust (RVFGMT) will unlock access to the global pineapple market, which has grown.
Facilitation of group certifications reduces individual certification costs for small holder farmers hence allowing them to access certified international markets."
Currently, cash crops being produced for the export market by Zimbabwean producers includes temperate fruits (oranges, apples, pears, peaches, and nectarines), tropical fruits and vegetables (baby corn, butternut, citrus, chilli, gem squash, kiwi, lychee, mango, passion fruit, and pineapples), baby carrots, fine beans, cherry tomatoes, mange tout peas, melon, strawberries and sweet corn, as well as flowers.
The major markets for Zimbabwe horticultural exports are; Netherlands, United Kingdom, South Africa, Germany, Hong Kong, Portugal, France, China, Norway, Poland and Spain.
The United Kingdom is second largest importer of Zimbabwean horticultural products and with the coming in of the UK-Eastern and Southern Africa Economic Partnership, Britain has signalled its intention to strengthen the bilateral trade relations.
With the Horticulture Recovery and Growth Plan under implementation to stimulate export growth, indications are that local farmers will boost production, making it easy to meet requirements by buyers and growing demand.