Zimbabwe: Big market. Bigger challenges. (IPS)

| September 27, 2010

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Many farmers in Zimbabwe have relied on food aid in recent years. Tabiso Dube, from Gwanda district in southern Zimbabwe, is one of them.  After four years receiving food aid, she joined an irrigation scheme, together with 56 other farmers. She is now able to grow food all year-round. She can feed her children and give food to her extended family and neighbours.

Ms. Dube is a mother of four. She says, “I do not worry about school fees anymore as our project has ensured I have enough food for my children and extra cash for fees and for developing my home.” Ms. Dube grows vegetables, wheat and maize. Her diet is more diverse than before and she earns money selling her produce.

In Bulawayo, 250 kilometres away, most fruits and vegetables sold in the markets are imported from South Africa.  The farms near Zimbabwe’s second city cannot meet demand. As a result, a million consumers pay high prices. Some growers who used to sell their produce in Bulawayo have been forced off their farms or have reduced production as a result of the land redistribution program. Those still farming struggle to finance increased production and maintain farm equipment.

Innocent Sibanda is one of those who are still farming. He says, “The Bulawayo market has no vegetables and the prices you get here are too good to be true.” A crate of tomatoes sells for six or seven dollars in Bulawayo. According to Mr. Sibanda, “… people go all the way to Harare to buy tomatoes for five dollars a crate and resell them in Bulawayo because the prices are better.”

Mrs. Dube and the members of the irrigation scheme are keen to supply this large market. They grow high quality organic produce. But they’re finding it hard to break into the market in Bulawayo. Esther Madema is a member of the irrigation scheme. She says, “It has been difficult to sell our produce in Bulawayo because of distance and negotiating better prices even when our produce is of good quality.”

Because of poor roads, lack of refrigeration and high fuel costs, transporting perishable produce 250 kilometres is a nightmare. Ironically, most of Bulawayo’s fresh produce travels as much as 700 kilometres over much better roads from South Africa. Marko Masuku is a Bulawayo wholesaler. He says, “We bring in about 30 tonnes of fruit and vegetables into Bulawayo [from South Africa] per week as we cannot get sufficient quantities locally.”

Pro Africa is a local development organization. They supported the development of the irrigation scheme. They offered to provide training in marketing to the scheme’s members. But the challenge has so far proved too difficult.  Pro Africa Director Velenjani Nkomo says one solution could be for the farmers to pool resources and buy their own truck.

For now, Pro Africa is encouraging the Bulawayo farmers to diversify production into less perishable vegetables like butternut, onions, and potatoes. Meanwhile, consumers in Bulawayo are still eating South African produce, unaware that quality local produce is available only 250 kilometres away.