Chinese authorities recently confirmed that 11 registered citrus orchards and six packing houses in Zimbabwe received approval to export citrus to China. The fresh citrus varieties cleared for export encompass sweet orange, mandarin orange, grapefruit, lemon, and sour orange. The green light for Zimbabwe to export citrus products to China promises not just opportunities for farmers but also for upstream support sectors, including those producing irrigation equipment and agricultural chemicals.
This approval follows roughly a year after Zimbabwe and China concluded a citrus export protocol to facilitate product entry. The initiative traces back to 2015 when Harare began seeking Chinese market access for its citrus produce. To gain approval, Zimbabwe had to adhere to certain phytosanitary standards to ensure the crops are free from pests and diseases.
Zimbabwe exported US$42.1m worth of citrus in 2021. Some of these can also be found in supermarket shelves in Singapore. The southern African republic has a favourable climate for growing citrus. 4,000ha are dedicated to its cultivation. As the summer season approaches, Chinese domestic citrus production slows down but consumer demand remains robust. Zimbabwe citrus season is well-timed to address the shortfall. It is located in the southern hemisphere where the seasons are diametrically opposite. In 2022, China's citrus imports were valued at US$456m, with South Africa contributing approximately 47% of that amount. Other significant citrus exporters to China include Australia, Thailand, Egypt, and the US.
Expanding into China offers Zimbabwean citrus producers a buffer against the price fluctuations of relying on a small number of markets. This new trade avenue is expected not only to incentivise more Zimbabweans to cultivate citrus but also to boost opportunities for suppliers of agricultural inputs such as irrigation equipment and chemicals.
Zimbabwe is reportedly also in discussions with China to open market access for its blueberries, avocados and chilli. In recent years China has granted entry to a growing number of African food items, including avocados and anchovy from Kenya, coffee and soya beans from Ethiopia, beef products from Namibia and Botswana, and chilli from Rwanda. This is in line with President Xi Jinping's push to establish "green lanes" for African agricultural exports, expedite inspection and quarantine procedures, and extend the list of products under zero-tariff treatment.
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