HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s blueberry production, one of the country’s fastest growing crops, is under threat from a currency crisis and high borrowing costs, an industry body said.
Global consumption of the blue fruit has increased in recent years due to its perceived health benefits which, some studies say, include helping to ward off several key-risk health factors.
Zimbabwe, where climatic conditions allow high yields from open field planting and early delivery into export markets doubled its blueberry production to 7,000 metric tons this year, according to the Horticultural Development Council (HDC).
But plantings, which have expanded by nearly 800% to 575 hectares since 2018, stalled this year as farmers battled high borrowing costs and the impact of a volatile economic climate.
“There were no significant new blueberries in 2023 as growers recovered from a tough 2022. An additional 100 hectares is anticipated only in 2024,” the HDC said.
The HDC said high interest rates and limited access to long-term financing was hurting farmers, who only receive 75% of their export earnings in United States dollars and the balance in a local currency that has depreciated by nearly 90% since the beginning of the year.
Growers are also seeking income tax holidays, a removal of import duty for key inputs and a reduction in land levies as they nurse the nascent industry.
“Unless policy issues are resolved, this promising industry risks stagnation and Zimbabfrxwe will miss out on a strong opportunity to position itself as a leader on the global stage,” the HDC said.
(Reporting by Nelson Banya; editing by David Evans)