Business

‘We’re on the cusp of something big’

Garlic and ginger can perform very well in all the provinces across the country.

There is currently an ongoing drive to increase garlic production, whose demand in international markets continues to rise. Spain, for example, earned more than US$478 million from exports of the high-value commodity in 2020. The Government believes there is scope for crops like garlic and ginger to play a leading role in rural development, which is key to achieving Vision 2030. Our Business Reporter Ishemunyoro Chingwere was in Gutu for the launch of the export programme being spearheaded and financed by Gutu Central Member of Parliament Winston Chitando, who is also the Minister of Mines and Mining Development. He had an opportunity to talk to Garlic, Ginger and Turmeric Growers Association of Zimbabwe field advisor Mr Douglas Msipa on issues pertaining to garlic production. Mr Msipa is an established commercial garlic farmer and is expecting a yield of 100 tonnes this year.

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Q: We understand that your association is working with a lot of farmers who are into garlic production. Can you outline what it is exactly that you are doing and your objectives?

A: We are pushing a programme in conjunction with ZimTrade, where we are conscientising farmers throughout Zimbabwe. It is usually at the request and facilitation of local MPs. So far, together with ZimTrade, we have covered areas such as Somabhula in Midlands, we have covered Plumtree and today (Thursday) we are here in Gutu at the invitation of Minister Chitando.

Q: How has been the response considering that these are relatively new crops being produced at commercial level?

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A: The uptake is good, encouraging, if I may say, and I think within the next five or so years, Zimbabwe could be a force to reckon with in garlic, ginger and turmeric production in the world. You heard Minister Chitando giving a breakdown of the figures just now. With just half a hectare, which can easily be irrigated manually, one can alternate garlic and ginger in one year and get about US$20 000 from each as net profit, which will leave the farmer US$40 000 well off, in a year’s production. 

Q: Commercial production of these crops is new and obviously one thing a farmer will be worried about is adaptability to the environment. How are you going round this hurdle as you seek to promote farmer uptake?

A: They are doing well across the country in all our farming regions. People in Plumtree, for example, never thought they could grow garlic, but I personally donated a kilogramme of seed to 50 farmers. From that seed alone, each of them is on course to produce 25kg. I knew it will work in Plumtree because I have had a project in Botswana and it performed well, only for me to then have problems with water. So, in short, I can say garlic and ginger can perform well in all the provinces across the country, especially in sandy and loam soils.

Q: Your programme with ZimTrade appears to have a bias towards small-scale farmers. What about the uptake by large-scale farmers?

A: We have large-scale commercial farmers. The difference is that their activities do not draw much attention compared with smaller projects, which ordinarily seek to benefit the whole community or district. I am one of the large-scale farmers; I think the largest in the country because last year I harvested 40 tonnes of garlic and this year I am targeting 100 tonnes from my operation in Gweru.

Q: Where do you see Zimbabwe in terms of garlic production in the short to medium term?

A: In the next three years, we will be primarily focusing on boosting the country’s capacity through local means, so we are looking at producing enough seed that can then sustain a global boom. We say this against the background that seed is very expensive in South Africa. Just to bring things into perspective, one needs R150 000 worth of seed to do a hectare of garlic, which is about five times what we are charging here, so if we were to base our growth on imported seed, it will then make our product less competitive on the international market. 

So we are hoping that the next three years will see us grow our capacity in terms of seed (production) so that we don’t import. 

There is a huge scope for seed exports because Botswana wants seed from us, so does Zambia, Kenya and other countries. And we are so far failing to tap into this because of low capacity, which we are now correcting. We are really on the cusp of something big. The Government is talking value addition and beneficiation and this makes a lot of sense for the producer in that it guarantees a higher return, so we are already working with a local university (Midlands State University) so that we can collaborate on value addition. 

We are already on course, to an extent that when we mass produce, we don’t hope to sell our garlic as raw bulbs we will  need to value add the garlic, the ginger and the turmeric.

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Q: In terms of markets for their produce, what assurance can you give farmers who might want to venture into garlic production?

A: These are high-value foods with plenty of medicinal properties. The market is global. Last year, we had a client from the United Arab Emirates who wanted just 10 tonnes of garlic at US$10 per kilogramme and we failed to deliver. 

The same client wanted 50 tonnes per month just two containers of 25 tonnes each every month but the product is not there. This is just one client I am talking about. There are several other markets across the world. Australia, for example, wants to pay US$12 per kilogramme. In South Africa, just this month, both garlic and ginger were placed in the basket of essential foods because prices were going through the roof because of demand.

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