Samuel Kadungure Senior Reporter
AFTER years of neglect, Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (Arda) has managed to lure investors whose capital injection will unlock and transform agricultural development, improve the productivity and sustainability at all its estates.
Arda owns 22 estates across the country, which translates to about 100 000 hectares, most of which have been lying idle owing to viability challenges largely emanating from poor funding.
Katiyo Tea Estate (Mutasa), Rusitu Estate (Chipinge), Gairezi Estate (Nyanga), Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi are some of its estates in Manicaland where the financial injection is set to boost productivity, create more jobs, grow enough nutritious food to feed the nation and export crops while significantly reduce poverty levels among small-holder out growers.
Arda chairman Mr Basil Nyabadza, though refusing to mention names, said they secured investors interested in dairy and livestock; macadamia, pecan and cashew nuts; maize, soyabeans, timber, potatoes, butter nuts, stevia and chia.
“We have just secured an investor to do a plantation of pecan nuts that are dedicated for export. The investors were secured under the 10-Point Plan using the public private partnerships business model,” said Mr Nyabadza.
He said Arda has planted 10 000 hectares of sugar cane and 200 hectares of tea while dairy farming, macadamia nuts and timber plantations were in full throttle in Manicaland.
“We have secured long-term investors to improve our plantations for both macadamia nuts and timber plantations,” he said. Mr Nyabadza said Arda has started running trials for stevia, which is a substitute for sugar cane. Stevia is a sweetener used in the beverages industry.
“It is a first of its kind in Zimbabwe. It is a huge industry because people are now running away from sugar,” he added.
The Arda chairman said it was now Arda’s thrust to promote production of non-traditional dedicated export crops such as pecan nut, macadamia and cashew nuts in Manicaland and through small-scale out growers in line with its mandate to bring positive change in rural communities.
Arda, he said, has increased capacity utilisation at most of its estates to around 75 percent from the 15 percent recorded over the past five years. Its tea and coffee plantations had collapsed following poor prices on the world market which saw many growers in Manicaland abandoning the crops in favour of bananas.
The number of tea growers fell by 60 percent to 1 200 from 3 000 in 2005. Mr Nyabadza said introduction of non-traditional crops follows acute demand from the Asian, European and Arab countries.
Macadamia is now a lifeline for hundreds of farmers in Chipinge where the crop is exported primarily to China and South Africa where demand is high. Macadamia, pecan nuts and cashew nuts are high value crops, which were previously a preserve of a few white farmers. These plantation crops also grow better in areas where avocados, papayas, mangoes and bananas do well. Great demand for pecan nuts is also in China. Other non-traditional crops and market-led crops being targeted by Arda include granadilla, chia — which is on demand from the Arab world, mangoes, avocadoes, baby corns, eggplant, broccoli, butter nut, cauliflower, cucumbers, garlic, garn-squash, monkey tout peas, okra, sweet pepper, reddish, spinach, spring onion, passion fruit, strawberries, sweet melons and young berries.