On Pinfields Farm at Ruwa, the blueberry harvest started two weeks ago, the early crop going to Woolworths shelves in South Africa, as the Zimbabwean blueberry harvest begins well ahead of South Africa.
The 42 hectares of blueberries were established four years ago, delivering into Berryworld UK’s programme. When the UK export season starts, fruit is trucked to Cape Town harbour to be shipped.
The blueberry bushes are planted using substrate in pots and some are open field, on a site where flowers used to be grown for export.
Mushandi Farm has been involved in horticulture exports from Zimbabwe since the late 1980s, involving fresh and prepared vegetables as well as fresh-cut flowers for the Dutch auction system.
Pinfields is one of two farms run by Mushandi.
In Macheke, on the border between Mashonaland East and Manicaland, is their strawberry project, Home Farm. The area is suited to stone fruit and, it turns out, to strawberries as well.
“We’ve been slowly building up the strawberry programme over the past six years, starting with 3ha which we have expanded to 15ha,” says Nigel Bailey, managing director of Mushandi Holdings.
“All the plants are under plastic hoops. They are irrigated and fertilised using a highly sophisticated computerized fertigation drip system.”
The farm’s microclimate and pronounced day-night temperature difference works well for production all through the year.
“It’s expensive to establish strawberries; it’s comparable to blueberry establishment costs,” Bailey says. “We aim to open more doors once we get to critical mass. We also supply the local market while any overripe fruit goes to jam production.”
They export strawberries to South Africa in the summer months and to the Middle East in the winter months.
Two years ago, they decided to change their approach to controlling pests on the strawberry model.
“We decided to be brave and bold and so we started adopting a biological approach for pest management. Once you are into it you do not go back. It’s been just wonderful for us,” Bailey says.
“It’s a good thing we’ve moved to biological farming. We’ve implemented a strong integrated pest management (IPM) service using natural predators from Dudutech in Kenya and importing biologicals from Stanes in India and Dagutat Science South Africa.”
Bees are important for strawberry and blueberry pollination. Interestingly, the strawberry site in Macheke is in line with a natural bee movement flight path, so pollination is easier than most other sites.
It takes an appetite for risk to re-start in an uncertain era. But, according to Bailey, Zimbabwe has what it takes to assume a strong place in fresh produce export – the country has been there before with the export of flowers, fruit and vegetables. The company has a foreign investment partner.
“We have an effective model of good farming practice that we would like to expand upon and use to this effect.”