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Horticulture under threat

Augustine Mukaro

THE horticultural sector is under serious threat from Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono’s stagnant foreign-exchange rate policy and continued farm acquisitions. <

Zimbabwe’s fresh produce giants are facing viability problems due to the over-valuation of the local dollar against major trading currencies. Fresca was forced into liquidation while Mitchell & Mitchell is laying off workers.

Meanwhile, Hortico is winding up its operations.

Highly placed sources in the horticultural industry said the fixed exchange rate since the beginning of the year had made it impossible for fresh produce exporters to break even, let alone be viable.

“The exchange rate has moved up by a mere 30% since the beginning of the year against a 400% increase in the cost of production and other expenses,” a source said this week. “This is not sustainable and unless the dollar is devalued as a matter of urgency, companies will continue to fold.”

Sources said converting forex at the controlled auction rate will not work when other services are rising.

Zimbabwean horticultural produce is rated amongst the top foreign currency earners after penetrating European markets.

Sources said the continued acquisition of farms was creating uncertainty among producers.

Hortico, which used to be the country’s second largest fresh produce exporter, is facing closure due to land seizures that have rocked the agricultural sector over the past four years.

The firm, located along the Harare-Shamva highway on Chipunza Farm, used to get most of its produce from an estimated 15 outgrowers around the area. Most of the outgrowers have since been forced off their properties.

Farms that used to supply Hortico have continued to be acquired one by one since 2000.

Although Hortico owner Daniel Perlman underplayed the impact of the land seizures on his business, workers said all was not well on the farm as they were losing their jobs and being left destitute.

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