THE COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in people becoming more cautious of their eating habits, with the majority opting for foods offering health benefits.
One of the horticultural produces that has been in demand is citrus fruits.
In the past few months, there has been a surge in demand for citrus fruits due to their perceived immune-boosting benefits.
Citrus fruits are relatively rich in Vitamin C and the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a boom in international demand for citrus due to the immune-boosting benefits of Vitamin C.
According to the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa (CGA), demand for lemons from overseas markets doubled in April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
The Zimbabwe CGA also reported large shipments of lemons to Russia and the Middle East in June .
The CGA has been observing the Southern African citrus exports and forecast this year’s soft citrus production would reach two million cartons, with 1,2 million cartons already packed, surpassing the 700 000 cartons packed over the same period last year.
With demand going up, indications are that supply has been failing to meet demand, pushing the prices up over the past few months.
According to Global Trade Review, a carton of lemons was fetching US$50-US$60 in the Middle East in April 2020, compared to the normal price range of US$15-US$20 per carton.
“Even in countries where certain types of citrus, such as grapefruit, were not widely consumed, shoppers are now buying anything that looks like an orange or a lemon,” according to the Global Trade Review.
The biggest citrus markets in the world include the US, followed by Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, France, UK, China and Canada.
China imports over one million tonnes of citrus products worth about US$594 million, which are mostly concentrated from South Africa, Australia, Egypt and Spain.
According to ZimTrade, there was scope for Zimbabwean citrus producers to supply the Chinese market.
“To fully take advantage of this opportune market in China, the Government is finalising a protocol on Citrus which will allow Zimbabwe direct access and entry into the Chinese market,” said ZimTrade.
“The good thing about Zimbabwe taping into the Chinese market is that it will ease the over reliance on the European market, allowing the country to diversify and hedge against price volatility by concentrating on one market.
Under this protocol, Zimbabwean citrus fruits exported to China, including orange, mandarin, lemon, grapefruit, limes, tangelo and grapefruit shall comply with the relevant phytosanitary laws, regulations and health and safety standards of China and satisfy the phytosanitary requirements as stipulated in the protocol, and shall be free of the quarantine pests of concern to China.”
ZimTrade said the notable pests highlighted by the Chinese as problematic included Mediterranean fruit fly (ceratitis capitate), Natal fruit fly (ceratitis rosa), false codling moth (thaumatitibia leucotreta), bunch mite (brevipalpus californicus) and oriental fruit fly (bactrocera dorsalis).
“The Chinese also highlight that citrus exports should be free from Leaf spot (phaeoramularia angolensis) and African greening disease (Candidatus liberobacter africanum),” said ZimTrade.
“With the protocol at advanced stage of development, there are opportunities for local farmers to tap into the lucrative markets and earn the much needed foreign currency, especially when prices are currently high.”
According to ZimTrade, figures over the past few years indicated local farmers had potential to increase supply.
“The exports of citrus products by Zimbabwe have been increasing by around four percent in the last exporting years,” said ZimTrade.
“Zimbabwe export markets in 2019 included Netherlands (63 percent), Portugal (six percent), France (four percent), Germany (four percent), UK (three percent), Saudi Arabia (three percent), Spain (three percent) and others (13 percent).”
According to Trade Map, Zimbabwe exported 49 358 tonnes of citrus in 2019, predominantly made up of valencia oranges that makes the biggest portion of the citrus export market followed by navel oranges, lemons, soft citrus and grapefruits.
At peak Zimbabwe used to produce approximately 10 000 hectares under citrus and currently about 3 000 ha is under export citrus production.
ZimTrade said to increase total area under the crop, which would make it easy to increase exports, there was need for new players to enter and take part in the production of this high value crop.
“This entrance by new players will require all stakeholders, particularly farmers, to adopt a commodity approach where establish players support the entire value chain with technical, business, and agronomic skills,” said ZimTrade.
“Setting up and developing youth-led farms and businesses will also ensure that the industry is keeping ahead of the curve.
Setting up of new plantations require a three-year establishment costs and as such, there is need to attract funding and investment into the establishment of new orchards.”
In Zimbabwe, citrus fruits are commercially grown in areas which include Beitbridge, Mazowe Valley, Chegutu and parts of Manicaland Province, such as Headlands and Chipinge.
Unlike in the aforementioned places, citrus fruits in Rusitu Valley are grown by communal farmers in backyard orchards.
According to ZimTrade, the biggest hinderance to citrus production is access to seedlings, as potential producers must wait for 15-18 months to access seedlings.
“Some local farmers are having to source their planting materials from South Africa as local supply cannot meet demand,” said ZimTrade.
“In Zimbabwe, we have one company accredited with the Citrus Research Institute to produce planting material.
To increase nursery production to meet the national requirements, Zimbabwe should establish more nurseries and capacitate existing ones such as the Chiredzi Research Institute.”
The major economic value of oranges lies in their fruits and juice concentrates, but several fragrant oils can be extracted from their flowers, or from their peel as a byproduct of the orange-juice industry.
These essences can be used to manufacture fragrances used in the manufacturing of perfumes and to scent many household products, such as liquid detergents, shampoos and soaps with aromatic oils extracted from citrus products.
Other commercial value-added products from citrus fruits include citric acid and marmalade.