Zimbabwe, with support from international partners, is aiming to revive paprika production in the smallhold sector, to counter the continued negative effects from the controversial land reform programme of 2000.
Olivia Mukoko, of the USAID-funded project Zimbabwe Agricultural Income and Employment Development Programme (Zim-AIED), says Zimbabwe’s paprika production has increased since 2010 following her organisation’s interventions to increase smallholder production.
Zimbabwe had previously been the third largest paprika exporter, competing with other major producers such as India and China. However, the industry has suffered a sharp decline in Zimbabwe since the land reforms, as many of the large farms, which accounted for much of the country’s production of the spice, were closed down. Many processing facilities, which ground the peppers to powder form, also shut as the nation’s economy tumbled.
“However, despite the decline, we are seeing through our interventions that it’s not all doom and gloom, since there is potential for growth of paprika production,” said Mukoko. Paprika production used to be a major preserve of the large-scale commercial farmers, but Zim-AIED’s intervention is witnessing a shift in trends with the small-scale sector taking over to revive production.
Zim-AIED is working in collaboration with the government of Zimbabwe Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development and other partners from the private sector to see the revival of the sector.
Zimbabwean paprika had earned a good reputation on global markets for its rich colour and quality, and the export boomed. According to the permanent secretary at the Agriculture Ministry, Ngonidzashe Masoka, production of the spice increased from 5,000 tonnes in 1996 to 14,000 tonnes in 2003.
“However, production started to decline, reaching as low as 685 metric tons in 2010 before it started to increase again in 2011.We give thanks and credit to the private sector,” Masoka said.
In particular, he has commended Zim-AIED for its contribution to reversing the declining trend and for the establishment of a paprika industry that recognises the pivotal role of smallholder farmers. The development of the sector is key in the on-going agrarian reform process where the focus is on improving production and competitiveness.
Zim-AIED and its sister programme, Smallholder Technology and Access to Markets Programme (STAMP), have invested $600,000 with crop inputs such as seeds and fertilizer. They have also given grants for agricultural training and technical assistance, and provided AgriTrade loans to one of the major local paprika buyers.
Zim-AIED is aiming to increase incomes, employment and food security for 180,000 rural families in the country. In the 2012/2013 season alone, they have invested more than $277,000 in support and crop schemes to benefit more than 800 farmers.
“I am confident that these investments will bring Zimbabwe back to the 2003 paprika production levels,” Masoka said.
Zim-AIED’s Mukoko agrees, insisting that evidence shows that small scale growers can produce competitively and profitably. She says that paprika has higher returns for growers than other competing crops, and she adds that Zimbabwe’s paprika quality compares well with that of China and Peru, the outstanding world market leading exporters.
However, Mukoko stresses that Zimbabwe needs to make use of the good access to buyers in South Africa, Spain and India, as well as their excellent pepper-growing climate. Farmers in Zimbabwe will also benefit from their crop already meeting EU market requirements such as levels of moisture and pungency.
Yet growth in the industry may be slowed by the lack of large-scale buyers based in Zimbabwe, a lack of trade finance, as well as a lack of knowledge for new buyers. Olivia Mukoko also points to low average yields, limited storage and processing facilities and lack of credit support for inputs as major challenges to the paprika production.
Zim-AIED has set out a number of targets for the next three years to give the industry a boost. They aim to attract new buyers into Zimbabwe, as well as increasing productivity and production to 5,000 tonnes. However, they also want to ensure that smallholder benefit financially from this investment whilst remaining competitive.
For a country reeling from a decade long economic recession, economy analysts say that revival of the agriculture sector remains key in fuelling growth and regenerating the economy. The potential of crops like paprika cannot be underestimated to achieve these ambitions.