Samuel Kadungure Senior Farming Reporter
THE Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) is promoting production of non-traditional dedicated export crops such as pecan nut, macadamia and cashew nuts at all estates in Manicaland and through small-scale out growers in line with its mandate to bring positive change in rural communities.
The Authority has increased capacity utilisation at most of its estates across the country to around 75 percent from the 15 percent recorded over the past five years.
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.
In Manicaland, Arda is engaging potential investors to boost production at Katiyo Tea Estate (Mutasa), Rusitu Estate (Chipinge), Gairezi Estate (Nyanga), Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi (Chipinge) – where the authority partnered Macdom and Ratings Investments to form Green Fuel, which owns the Chisumbanje ethanol plant.
ARDA ploughs back profits generated through the joint venture to revive its tea plantations in the eastern highlands.
The tea and coffee plantations had collapsed following poor prices on the world market which saw many growers abandoning tea growing in favour of bananas.
The number of tea growers fell by 60 percent to 1 200 from 3 000 in 2005.
Arda board chairman Mr Basil Nyabadza told The Manica Post that the parastatal was engaging with potential investors with a view to introduce non-traditional crops whose demand from the Asian, European and Arab world is high.
“At Rusitu and Katiyo, we are currently engaging potential investors to do huge plantation of macadamia, pecan nut and cashew nut, among other on demand and dedicated crops for export,” said Mr Nyabadza.
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.
Farmers who invested in macadamia orchards years ago are reaping the rewards as the industry is enjoying an exceptionally profitable phase, with global prices riding on the crest of the Chinese demand.
Macadamia, pecan nuts and cashew nuts are high value crop 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.
Pecan nuts are the product of the hickory tree, also known as Carya illinoinensis.
The trees are native to central and southern North America, and were food source for Native Americans.
To produce pecan nuts is a challenge because it takes about eight years to see a return on investment, meaning one needs to have a cash crop or alternative source of income to see them through in the meantime.
Great demand for pecan nuts is in China, and that country is the main export market.
The nuts-in-shell market in China has seen extensive growth since 2007.
“At Gairezi we are seeking to expand the production of potatoes –both seed and table. We also want to plant an additional hectrage of gum trees for use in tobacco curing.
We are also doing pine and engaging a partner to run a sawmill.
“And at Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi, we are looking at expanding of seed cane and sugarcane which will lead to the creation of an additional ethanol plant.
This, however, depends on heavy investment in water. We require at least $300m for the construction of Kondo Dam, and we also need to attend to heavy siltation in Sabi River because water flow is now an issue, which will lead to expanded production along the river,” said Mr Nyabadza.
At the moment Middle Sabi and Chisumbanje Estates are relying on water from Osborne and Rusape dams.
“Depending on water availability, we would need to open up an additional 5000ha on an annual basis to expand sugar cane production for the ethanol project.
This will require competitive finance to build an additional dam to trigger water availability and additional horticultural activities will take place,” said Mr Nyabadza.
Mr Nyabadza said Arda has embarke on an awareness and access to nursery campaign with a view to select pilot projects to grow non-traditional crops.
Among non-traditional crops, beside the nuts, other 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, among others.
“All these are horticulture products with high demand in Europe and Asia,” said Mr Nyabadza.
The chairman also added that Arda was also looking forward to open a factory at Katiyo Tea Estate.
This could see the return of the popular Katiyo Tea to the shop shelves.
“The revival of tea plantations is vital for us and we have 2000ha of tea that is being harvested and we are going to engage more out growers to increase our output,” he said.
Arda, is also considering partnerships modeled along the $600 million Chisumbanje ethanol plant, where it weighed in with vast tracts of land in its joint venture with Macdom and Rating Investments. The plant currently contributes 65 percent of Arda’s revenue.