Zim sitting on potential banana bonanza

Zimbabwe is sitting on a banana gold mine that has the potential to contribute millions to the national economy. KENNETH MATIMAIRE reports from Mutare.

Banana nursery
Banana nursery

Zimbabwe has, over the past decade, tried to reposition itself as a mineral based economy following the discovery of the Marange diamonds in 2006. The discovery was made during the demise of agriculture – once the backbone of the country’s economy – brought about as a result of the impact of the ill-advised and corrupt land re-distribution programme.

While it was widely reported that the Marange fields were estimated to meet 25 percent of the world’s diamond demand, the precious alluvial gems have since run out, barely five years after government started formal mining operations.

Agriculture the mainstay

Economists have, on numerous occasions, lobbied government to revisit its position – arguing that history has shown that agriculture is the mainstay of the country’s economy.

The calls come at a time when the tobacco industry generated over $600 million during the last season. While banana production has received minimal support from government as compared to that given to tobacco, maize and wheat, research indicates that bananas have enormous potential to contribute millions to the economy, particularly in the light of significant interest from a giant European company wanting to import bananas from Zimbabwe.

Findings from a recent survey show that vast banana fields have not been fully utilised. Measures are underway to scale up production. Zimbabwe has over 3,255 hectares of land in the eastern border region alone that is suitable for banana production.

The available hectarage has the potential to produce over 32,550 tonnes of bananas using the standard 10 tonnes per hectare ratio. Currently approximately 1,600 hectares are under banana production while 1,655 hectares are under-utilised.

Chipinge has 1,130 hectares available but a mere 100 hectares is under production. There are three other major banana producing areas in the district. Chibuwe has 30 out of 230 hectares under production, Msikavanhu village is utilising only 10 of its 690 hectares.

Most productive

The most productive area is Mutema village which has a total of 60 hectares of its 210 hectares under production. Burma Valley is another banana plantation of over 525 hectares. The most viable farm measures about 205 hectares, and at one time was producing close to 200 tonnes of bananas per month, but that figure that since dropped to less than 50 tonnes.

Matanuska is the country’s top banana producer with an output of 9,000 tonnes while the remaining 7,000 tonnes comes from small-scale farmers. These statistics indicate that small-scale farmers also play a central role in the sector as they can surpass Matanuska’s production levels if supported.

The 2014 figures indicate lack of government support to promote banana production despite evidence that this crop is more viable than tomato or maize farming.

Agritex supervisor Naume Mayakayaka confirmed the research findings. “We carried out a snap survey of operational and production costs of tomatoes and maize against bananas. Our findings were that bananas were more viable. According to the survey, one hectare of tomatoes yields 15,000 kilograms with the minimum price for a tonne pegged at $50 while one hectare of maize produces 800kgs at a minimum price of $120 per tonne. This is in striking contrast to bananas, which produce 15 tonnes on under 0,25 hectares – realising $250 per tonne.”

Mayakayaka added that banana production, according to their survey carried out in Chipinge, increased from 15 tonnes in the first harvest to 16,25 tonnes in the second harvest before peaking at 17,5 tonnes in the third harvest.

Marketing woes

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) national vice president Henry Nemaire said the local banana industry had the potential to produce up to 35,000 tonnes per annum.

However, banana production has and is continuing to decrease annually owing to limited markets. Most small-scale farmers in Honde Valley, Burma Valley and Chipinge, apart from feeding the narrow local market sell only to Matanuska and Sun Spun.

But the finance director for Matunuska, Richard Chiwandire, is on record saying that lack of export markets is proving to be a major challenge. He said the company’s biggest export market – South Africa –was no longer as profitable as it had been owing to the depreciation of the Rand against the United States Dollar.

He added that the Zambian market was too small as they only export two truck-loads per week against SA’s 5 000 tonnes per annum.

However, indications are that, the sector is likely to secure a lucrative deal as the Polish firm Citronex has expressed strong interest in importing Zimbabwean bananas if agreements are reached between the firm and local producers.

Citronex is one of the largest distributors and importers of bananas in eastern Europe – with a hypermarket network in Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania and Germany. It currently imports the bulk of its bananas from Ecuador in South America – where it spends $200 million per annum. The firm has cast its eyes on Africa where it intends to spend $50 million annually on imports.

Matanuska has been approached by the Polish firm over a possible deal. Citronex purchasing manager, Jacek Konarzewski, confirmed the development. He said the firm’s focus on Africa had been a result of changes in their European markets.

“Due to changes in the market, we are currently looking for reliable trading partners in Africa. Our company spends $200 million on bananas from South America per year. This year we have planned to purchase from Africa bananas for about $50 million,” he said.

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Post published in: Agriculture