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Zimbabwe's farmers show a flair for flowers

Catering for discerning customers who expect a longer vase life from flowers is not easy. But resilient Zimbabwean flower growers who have made a breakthrough into the European flower market have learnt to combine marketing panache and attention to such details. They are now part of a growing industry which is expected to dominate Zimbabwe's horticultural exports. Yet, the challenges of growing export flowers that meet the needs of the market, coupled with the growing consumer sensitivity to the technicalities of planting, growing, packing and delivery, have not been easy.

Perennial varieties such as Eustoma are increasing in importance
credit: Thompson & Morgan

One source of help has been the Export Flower Growers Association of Zimbabwe (EFGAZ), which currently has 306 registered members. The association, formed in 1995, ensures that information on the latest floriculture trends is available to its member growers. Information has been a powerful empowerment for growers who have had to overcome the hurdles of sourcing equipment for export flowers grown mainly under plastic. Training on the best ways to grow roses, proteaceae and summer flowers have been priorities for the EFGAZ. This training has been bankrolled by fees levied on all producers to protect the high standards required to retain the export market.

In addition, fifty-seven growers are now working under an MPS (milieu project sierteelt) programme, supported by a Dutch NGO, which encourages correct and reduced use of chemicals in the soil. The programme has also focused on the social impact of chemical use with emphasis on the safety and health of workers handling pesticides on the flower farms. EFGAZ is running a further programme to help phase out the use of methyl bromide, used for disinfecting the soil. It is being replaced with more environment-friendly methods. According to EFGAZ chief executive, Mary Dunphy many importers in Europe are now demanding products from such programmes, knowing that the flowers have been grown in environmentally and socially sound conditions. The growers under the programme have reported successes in markets to which previously they had no access.

At a time when Zimbabwe is experiencing a shortage of foreign currency, flower growers, though not in full smiles to the bank, have achieved good margins per dollar invested and provided excellent quality per litre of water used. Last year floriculture earned US$66 million from exports and is expected to notch a 15% increase in revenue generation this year. This is despite the drawback that many farms with floriculture operations in Zimbabwe have been designated for resettlement. As a result, those remaining with land will be growing on a smaller area.

Roses constitute about 70% of Zimbabwe's flower exports. Currently there are up to 350 hectares under production and it is estimated that exports for the current season will be in the region of 18 000 tonnes. The main areas in which roses are grown are Banket/Trelawney, Concession/Glendale, Bindura, Harare, Goromonzi and Kwe Kwe, and the varieties grown include De Ruiter, Interlant, Kordes, Meilland, Nirp, Tantan and Terra Nigra.

Proteas, with their long shelf-life, are becoming increasingly popular in Europe, and the Zimbabwe Protea Association (ZPA) has just completed a survey reflecting that in the last two years there has been some major growth, with an increase in the number of new growers and an expansion of orchards by established producers. It is estimated that approximately 450 hectares will be under production in the coming season.

Annual varieties of summer flowers still produced in volumes are Ammi majus and bupleurum. Smaller volumes of delphinium, cathamus, craspedia, euphorbia, callistephus, and molucella are also produced.

Perennial varieties are increasing in volume and importance. The perennial production may be broken down into various sections defined by management methods. These include perennial species grown under plastic with or without lighting facility such as eustoma, asters spp, solidago spp. There are perennial species grown under shade with light management such as hypericum and phlox, and perennial species grown in the open such as rudbeckia, agapanthus and veronica.

The Horticultural Promotion Council (HPC) of which the EFGAZ is a member, says the Zimbabwean horticultural export industry is the second largest agricultural foreign exchange earner after tobacco, and accounts for up to 4.5% of GDP. Principal markets are the Netherlands (86%) and South Africa (6.9%) with the balance going to Australia, Far East, Germany, United Kingdom, and United States.

"Floriculture has the potential to expand rapidly, with flowers for export to Europe, USA, South Africa, Austria and the Far East being grown throughout the country," the HPC says.

Floriculture, which is forecast to grow by 20% per annum, appears to have been the least affected by the current turbulent environment, primarily because it is the most capital intensive and growers are less able to switch to alternative production. The success of the floriculture sector has been based on a free market situation requiring considerable entrepreneurial flair from producers.

Article submitted by Busani Bafana

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