Moving a mountain of mangoes

A food-processing plant in Gokwe, a small town about 350 kilometres west of the capital Harare, is helping smallholder mango farmers to stay solvent in difficult times.

When weather variations and/or pandemic-related travel restrictions result in mountains of unsold fruit, farmers can sell the excess to the processing plant. It dries and packages the fruit, and sells the packages to supermarkets at much higher prices than fresh mangoes.

The plant, which opened in November 2020, is operated by Agricultural Business Centre (ABC), a social enterprise. It was built with financial support from donors, including the German aid group Welthungerhilfe. In addition to dried mangoes, the plant produces sunflower oil and peanut butter. 

Selling excess mangoes to ABC was a lifesaver for farmers during the 2019/2020 season. They had a bountiful yield, but with coronavirus travel restrictions in place they could not get their produce to markets in Bulawayo, a city 300 kilometres to the south.

Dried mangoes, however, could be stored and sold later, when travel restrictions were relaxed. In addition to rescuing the unsold crop, this process smoothed out farmers’ revenue stream, as dried fruit can be sold year-round.

In most parts of Zimbabwe, the mango season starts during the rainy season in November and can continue until March. With dried mangoes, the fruit can be sold even in winter. “Most of my customers are in Bulawayo,” says farmer Foreman Zombe. “If it had not been for ABC, I would be counting my losses from the recent season.”

He adds, “I did not even have to organise transport as they came to my orchards and collected the mangoes.”

At the plant, fruit is laid out on racks to dry in the sun, covered with nets to keep flies away. The plant is starting to use electrical dehydrators on cloudy days, although this raises processing costs.

About 50 farmers supply fresh mangoes to the plant. “We hope to expand that number,” says ABC general manager Vernon Mushoriwa. “We are also considering adding processing centres in other locations. Demand for dried mangoes is high from supermarkets around the country.”

Eventually the company may also export dried fruit to other countries. “Zimtrade, Zimbabwe’s trade development agency, is building connections in export markets for our dried mangoes,” Mushoriwa says. “We are in discussions with buyers in Germany and elsewhere.”

Further reading
Ndhlovu, L., 2021: “When the world gives you rain, Zimbabwe growers make dried mangoes”. In: BusinessDay, February 2021.

Farai Shawn Matiashe is a journalist in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

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