By Tamuka Charakupa
DOWN on the scenic Chimanimani mountain foot is a lash green expansive area which from a distance could be mistaken for something other than a mono-culture plantation.
It is area dominated by pineapple fields managed by a dedicated small group of villagers the majority whom are from Ndiadzo Village.
“I started growing pineapples about 12 years ago, but we were just growing for the sake of it. We did not have markets and even roads to ferry our pineapples to the markets. It was in 2017 when ZimTrade came and that is when the real journey started,” said Langton Siyekaya a farmer.
Theirs is a historical tradition and a way of life in which they know nothing else except growing bananas and pineapples.
“When Cyclone Idai came in 2017 our fields were really affected. Of course not every plant was affected, but generally there were no roads so all the pineapple rotted in the fields,” said another farmer, Farai Magora.
Lioness Mashiri, another pineapple farmer said, “My field was not affected the most, but I suffered market constraints.”
What happened during the devastating Cyclone Idai which left a trail of destruction in the Eastern Highlands in 2019 is a story for another day as the villagers have since moved on after starting afresh.
Their desire and commitment prompted government and development partners to chip in with resources and technical support and it is no surprise that the community is among the top organic pineapple producers in the country.
“As Green Stone Foods we are working closely with our farmers to ensure they keep on producing quality pineapples. The demand is very high in Europe particularly in Germany and Russia. For now, we are selling in the Netherlands, but we are in the process of acquiring a global certificate to be able to supply around the globe,” said Noreen Dube.
The aftermath saw a joint effort led by the country’s trade promotion body, ZimTrade and the Dutch Embassy which helped the community to formalise their business operations resulting in a new baby called Rusitu Valley Fruit Growers and Marketing Trust, a 45-member group of dedicated farmers.
“As ZimTrade, we want to ensure that these farmers are capacitated with enough knowledge so that they are able to penetrate and dominate both local and international markets. We have brought in experts who are training these farmers on how to produce organic pineapples,” said Alan Majuru, ZimTrade CEO.
Through ZimTrade, the community secured an EcoCert organic certificate, a greenlight document which opened doors to the export market.
“We have managed to secure an EcoCert organic certificate so apparently they are now exporting to the Netherlands. As ZimTrade, we are happy with their commitment and expansion therefore we are looking forward to advance organic fruit production in Chimanimani. Your bananas, pineapples, honey, avocados they should be organic,” he said.
On the other hand, the Netherlands Embassy brought in experts for capacity building, while also availing funding for the expansion of the project.
The Netherlands Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia Her Excellency Dr Magret Verwijk is proud of the positive turn of events.
“It’s a partnership between Netherlands, ZimTrade and GreenStone. The farmers got certified and are now exporting. Netherlands is among the top three countries with knowledge and expertise in the area of horticulture, fruits and vegetables. We will continue to facilitate knowledge exchange and some resources,” said Dr Verwijk.
Walking with a spring in their step having cracked the export market, one can only marvel at the status quo and the endless possibilities that lie ahead.
“Marketing challenges have always been a limiting factor. We were being duped by middlemen, but the coming on board of ZimTrade opened up the export market. For now we are getting around $0.70 cents per kilogramme, which is much than the $0.45 we were getting locally,” said Siyekaya.
“Of course, our wish to have competitive markets, but we are happy we are getting something for our labour. When I look at my life I see a great change because of pineapples. It’s a business that has become my only source of livelihood,” said other pineapple farmers.
Ndiadzo Village headman Dudzai Ndiadzo bears testimony to the transformative nature of the project.
“When we started this we did not know what to do or to establish market links. We were just growing them for the road market, but now we are exporting and our livelihoods are changing,” he said.
Despite being in a position where they are earning a decent living, the community is not done yet with the focus turning to value-addition.
“Our wish is for the establishment of a factory for us so that we can also value-add. We have to can our bananas and pineapples so that we not only maximise on profits, but also create employment for our youths.”
Chief Mutema shares the same views as the community.
“Not everyone has access to export or to sell their produce even on the local market so at times these fruits rot in the fields. We need to ensure we do not waste, but maximise on our potential,” he says.
“We would love to enjoy the by-products on our own produce, said Langton, a young pineapple grower.
Lioness, another grower, said, “I am working in the field, but my son is not. It will be a positive development if factories are established so that no fruit goes to waste and at the same time we create employment opportunities for our children.”
Things can only get better with government having availed a US$20 million revolving fund to support farmers in the horticulture sector across the country.
The is sky indeed the limit for the Ndiadzo community with the next step being a Global Certificate for them to export their pineapples to any market in the world.