Nhimbe Fresh looks to the sun for growth, signs 1.9MW solar power deal for fruit estates

Workers at Nhimbe: the company in 2020 signed deals to expand exports to UAE

Nhimbe Fresh, the fruit and vegetable exporter headed by former Kondozi Estate owner Edwin Moyo, has signed up South African renewable energy startup Sun Exchange to install 1.9MW of solar power for its cold store and packhouse facilities.

The project will help Nhimbe Fresh expand production from 20 hectares to 200ha over five years, says Moyo. Solar will back Nhimbe’s recently signed US$15 million joint venture with the UAE’s Farmgate to produce fruits, macadamia nuts and vegetables for the UAE market.

Nhimbe Fresh exports blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, stone fruit, snap peas and snow peas to retailers in Europe and the UAE from its Rakodzi, Sable and Churchill farms near Marondera.

This will be Sun Exchange’s largest solar installation so far, and its first outside South Africa.

“The power outages have a major impact on our production and processing, reducing our capacity to 60%. We have backup diesel generators for the packhouses and irrigation, but they’re too expensive to run,” said Moyo.

Sun Exchange

Sun Exchange’s model allows users to buy remotely-located solar cells.

Sun Exchange’s founder and CEO, Abraham Cambridge, said though agriculture accounted for 23% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP, it suffers from poor power supply.

“Sun Exchange directly addresses those challenges by facilitating access to extremely simple, affordable, reliable solar power,” Cambridge said on Tuesday.

Phase one of the project will power Nhimbe Fresh’s packhouse and cold store facilities, pump sites in phase two, and also Nhimbe’s Churchill Farm under phase three.

Recently, Nhimbe successfully raised US$2.9 million from a local bond to expand its blueberry project. A further US$4 million was raised offshore for blubbery infield equipment. This will fund 60ha of the 200ha blueberry project for the next 5 years beginning September this year.

Power cuts, the outcome of years of infrastructure neglect, have weakened Zimbabwe’s efforts to revive industry. In 2019, Zimbabwe launched a renewable energy policy, and aims to generate at least 1,575MW of solar power by 2030, easing power imports.

Like in many other sectors, agric companies are investing in solar. Meikles is building 7.5MW of solar power for its tea and fruit estates as well as for the Mutare factory.

In 2019, Zimbabwe’s agricultural exports doubled to US$112m, driven mostly by growth in fresh produce exports to Europe and the Middle East.