Kiyapili Sibanda, Business Reporter
BEST Fruit Processors (BFP), a division of Schweppes Holdings Africa Limited, has approved a $10 million investment to set up a fruit processing plant in Esigodini.
The project is expected to benefit 3 328 out-grower farmers in Matabeleland region this year.
In January last year, BFP and the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) entered into a partnership to resuscitate the Norton fruit processing plant.
“Significant progress has been made in stabilising the value chains at the Norton Plant to enable the key earnings to be applied on the Esigodini project.
Preliminary engineering works for the new processing plant, agronomy assessments and out-grower mobilisation in Matabeleland is planned to commence next quarter,” said BFP board chairman, Mr Nicholas Ncube.
BFP said last year a total of 2 250 farmers participated in the out-grower programme supplying the Norton facility.
“A total of 3 328 out-growers in Matabeleland are expected to benefit from this project. Last year, a total of 2 250 farmers participated in the out-grower programme supplying the Norton facility. This programme covered a diverse range of out-growers ranging from irrigation schemes, small holder to commercial farmers,” said the company.
BFP is targeting to process at least 20 000 tonnes of fruit this year and the focus is to import substitute for tomato paste and other fruit purees as well as export contribution to increase much needed foreign currency earnings for the country.
It said to date, 320 tonnes of butternut have been processed into puree and the Norton plant was now processing guava.
“We are mobilising 3 000 tonnes from all areas with guava in the country, working with communities such as Watyoka, Mhondoro, Wedza, Honde Valley, Zvimba, Zaka and Chipinge, amongst others,” BFP general manager, Mr Smart Zongololo, said.
The company said a total of $3 million was invested last year in a three phased plant refurbishment programme, which increased plant capacity to 30 000 tonnes per annum.
BFP added that in 2016, tomatoes comprised 85 percent contribution and all the tomato paste output was fully absorbed by local manufacturers due to the high quality compared to imported paste.
“The plant is targeting to commence processing of tomatoes in June this year due to the incessant rains which are not ideal for tomato growing. An improved tomato out grower programme with a complete input support package (seedlings, chemicals and fertiliser) and increased agronomy support services is planned, which requires significant funding support from various sources to be a success,” said the company.
Zagrinda, which owns the Norton plant, is the brainchild of President Mugabe and the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo. It was established as a Joint Venture (JV) between ARDA and the Development Trust of Zimbabwe (DTZ).
The late VP Nkomo had a passion to see most rural Zimbabweans empowered through agriculture, value addition and beneficiation.
Meanwhile, BFP said they experienced agronomy challenges in the pilot phase last year in securing feedstock of the right quality and quantity due to the fact that most farmers use overhead sprinkler systems, which are not ideal for tomatoes.
The company added that the Tuta Absoluta (pest), which affected close to 100 hectares of contracted tomatoes in the fourth quarter of 2016, had provided key learning, which has resulted in a more robust agronomy plan.