Airlines crisis hits horticultural exports

SHAME MAKOSHORI

FARES for shipping Zimbabwe’s horticultural produce rocketed from the first quarter of this year after farmers switched from passenger to expensive cargo planes, an industry player said this week.

Freight prices increased from less than US$1 per kilogramme last year to US$5 per kg during 2020. The switch occurred after the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down as governments announced blanket lockdowns to prevent contagion.

Passenger planes were grounded worldwide, but airlines kept a significant number of their cargo jetliners on the wings.

George Bupe, general manager of High Produce Estates, told the Zimbabwe Independent that while exports into major markets continued during the airlines crisis, the switch to Cargo planes affected volumes and eroded profits.

“We have been hard hit in terms of freight prices,” he said.

“Freight has been a major challenge for farmers during the period. We have always relied on passenger planes to ship our produce into Europe, the United Kingdom and South Africa. For South Africa, the impact was minimal because we still used road transport freight. But using cargo planes into Europe increased our transportation costs.

The airfare for transporting a kilogramme was between US$0,75 and US$0,77 before the crisis. But with cargo planes this cost increased to between US$2,50 and US$5 per kg. It has made our produce expensive. However, the market is there. Countries like Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia are the biggest producers of horticulture produce but they were the worst affected by Covid-19. This affected their exports,” he said.

He said Kenya had overtaken Zimbabwe in horticultural export volumes.

However, the East African economic powerhouse had been affected by climate change.

“Climate change is real,” he said.

“It is going to be our next pandemic. If we don’t manage it we will be in trouble. We can no longer rely on rain fed agriculture anymore. For those who are planning for climate change, the future is bright, but those who are not taking action will find it difficult to survive,” he said.

According to ZimTrade, the country’s export trade promotion body, Zimbabwe has potential to generate over US$ 1 billion from its horticultural exports per annum.
The country currently exports between US$120 million and $ 122 million worth of horticultural produce yearly.

“This is still less than what we did in 1998 and 1999 . . . there is potential in this particular sector,” Tatenda Marume of ZimTrade said recently.

“The reasons why we are competitive in exporting horticultural products . . . is that we have one of the best climates in terms of crop production,” Marume said.

“The temperature and the precipitation give us unique supply windows into the markets . . . and this gives us a pretty good advantage in terms of pricing during these window periods,” he said.

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