by Tichaona Chifamba
HARARE, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwe will have to embark on a vigorous planting program if it is to meet the demand for citrus fruit from China, the Horticulture Development Council of Zimbabwe (HDCZ) has said.
Responding to questions from Xinhua following the signing of a protocol giving Zimbabwe citrus producers access to the Chinese market, HDCZ chief executive officer Linda Nielson said Thursday that the benefit of the protocol to the citrus sector was huge, given the size of the Chinese market.
"The benefit to the citrus sector is massive when one considers China's production is Northern Hemisphere and Zimbabwe is southern. China's production is 14 times greater than the whole Southern African Development Community region," she said.
Zimbabwe and China recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to pave the way for the Southern African country to export citrus fruits to its Asian partner.
The export deal will give Zimbabwe access to a market worth 500 million U.S. dollars annually and open new avenues for local farmers who have previously largely depended on the European market.
The fruits to be exported include oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, tangelos and grapefruits.
The protocol also covers plant health issues such as pests and diseases.
Nielson said Zimbabwe needed to have dedicated producers who were eager to develop new skills in order to satisfy the Chinese market.
"We need to establish a vigorous planting program requiring security. Once a citrus tree is planted, you are in it for life. It's not like growing maize this year and then tobacco the next (year).
"We need patient investors who need about seven years to repay loans. Development of skills in citrus production is the most complex of all farming activities," she said.
She acknowledged that there had not been trading in citrus fruit between China and Zimbabwe so far, but there was potential to make the deal a huge success.
"This will be the first year of exports into China. First, we need to have orchards and park houses that will be inspected by China's National Plant Protection Organization," she said.
"We need to encourage our farmers to be patient as they penetrate the market," she added. ■