ZIMBABWE had been largely self-sufficient in the provision of agricultural goods.
However, from 1985, the importation of cereals has been growing due to the increased shortages of the staple food (maize), caused by droughts, population growth, increased urbanisation and the shift of production from cereals to cash crops (in response to the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme – ESAP).
Prior to the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme, emphasis was on food security through self-reliance in cereal production rather than through trade.
As such, food imports were minimal.
The supply of cereals, mainly maize, in Zimbabwe is largely dependent on domestic production, especially when the rainfall patterns are not erratic.
According to theCentral Statistics Office and Agricultural Statistical Bulletin (2001), wheat dominated agricultural imports from 1990 to 2000 with rice, vegetables and fruits contributing significantly.
This clearly shows that Zimbabwe was a net importer of wheat (grain).
Post-independence, Zimbabwe exported a wide variety of agricultural products, ranging from cash crops to cereals.
The major agricultural exports in the recent past include tobacco, cotton, tea, coffee, beef, sugar, horticultural products and maize, depending on the rainfall pattern.
The implementation of the ESAP, in 1990, saw a shift from self-reliance towards trade which caused a steady increase in import value.
The peak in terms of food imports was in 1992, with significant import surges in cereals occurring during the period 1992-1993 due to one of the severest droughts on record.
After 1995, there was considerable diversification away from tobacco production to horticultural products.
The industry experienced increased exports in four main categories, namely; fresh produce (mostly vegetables), citrus and subtropical fruits, deciduous fruits and flowers.
For example, according to the Horticultural Promotion Council of Zimbabwe, a total of 54 000 tonnes (US$103 million) of horticultural produce was exported in the 1996/1997 season, compared to 6 000 tonnes (US$6 million) 10 years previously in the 1986/1987 season.
This was mainly because of the tariff harmonisation brought about by trade liberalisation under the foreign exchange liberalisation under ESAP that offered new options and which enabled growers to penetrate previously impenetrable markets.
Between 1985 and 1994, the volumes of major exports (tobacco, cotton lint, dairy products, cereals including maize) rose by 24 -105 percent, whereas for the period 1990-2000, all products except tobacco and dairy products recorded negative growth.
However, with the exception of cotton lint and cereals, the value of exports increased again for all products in the first period as well as in the second period.
The mean unit prices between the periods 1990-2000 declined for most products, except for tobacco and cotton lint.
Various factors affected the performance of agricultural exports, especifically an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001; the land reform programme; as well as a diplomatic row between Harare and the EU, which both were believed to have significantly undermined local exports, especially to the EU market.
Subsequently, horticulture also suffered as major airlines that normally transported these fresh products to the EU markets began to withdraw their services from Zimbabwe.
At the time, the horticulture industry was the fastest growing export sector in Zimbabwe.
It ranked number six in the agricultural sector in terms of its contribution to foreign currency earnings after tobacco, cotton, cereals, grain, sugar, tea and coffee.
The main export market for these products was the EU market, which accounted for about 95 percent of Zimbabwe’s cut flower exports, 90 percent of vegetables, herbs and spices and 75 percent of citrus fruit exports.
Total exports ballooned from 14 474 tonnes between 1989-1990, to 64 650 tonnes between 1999-2000.
Opening up new markets in the Near East and East Asia were forecast to continue the growth of Zimbabwe’s horticultural exports.
Fresh horticultural products from Zimbabwe enjoyed a competitive cost advantage on the international market, derived from low costs, good climate, vast availability of land suitable for horticulture, export processing zone status and the number of international airlines that were servicing the industry at the time.
In the 1998/1999 growing season, there was a drastic fall of about 57 percent in the export value of horticultural commodities despite the continuous increase in quantity produced, resulting from depressed flower markets and prices, and the withdrawal of several airlines from Zimbabwe as well as the introduction of exchange rate controls.
However, according to the Agricultural Statistical Bulletin (2001), exports recovered again in the period 1999/2000.
Floriculture, a capital-intensive subsector of horticulture, was expanding rapidly in Zimbabwe, with fresh cut flowers grown throughout the country being exported to Europe, the US, South Africa, Austria and the Far East.
The success of the floricultural sector in Zimbabwe was mainly based on a free market situation that required considerable entrepreneurial skills from the producers.
Dr. Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant, lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail: email@example.com