By Kenneth Matimaire
Zimbabwe’s young entrepreneur has ventured into banana value addition to curb post-harvests losses.
Ropafadzo Zimunya is producing banana flour and expanding to industrial gluten free thickeners which are on high demand in foreign markets.
This comes as the banana sector has been hit by post-harvests losses of close to 30 percent per annum due to oversupply of the fruit.
Zimunya said the business plan, Greenit Diversified Group was conceived two years ago after he completed his Advanced Level (Form Six) together with his business partner Munashe Musarurwa.
“We wanted to create a business that was relevant. I was of the idea that we needed to produce more food (agricultural produce). I wasn’t entirely wrong but I was clearly uninformed. The focus was going to be agribusiness.
“We turned to an industry that is high output, yet (now that we know) has very little industrial uptake ratio, The Banana Industry,” he said.
Zimunya who is embarking on his undergraduate degree in Business Management, said he was shocked to discover that as of 2016, the industry incurred 26% in post-harvests losses.
Statistics gathered from the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) at a time there is a production boom characterised by depressed exports.
Banana production jumped to 45,000 tonnes in 2017 from 16,000 tonnes in 2015 while exports plunged to 2,000 tonnes from 8,000 tonnes during the same period.
A total of 8,800 tonnes of bananas were lost due to handling and deformities.
2018 and 2019 statistics are not readily available.
“We had to figure out a solution to tap into this value chain at a lower stage, hence the banana flour idea…we decided to refocus our efforts to creating a product that would harness bananas before they would get wasted. We started refocusing Greenit. Our banana flour solves the challenge of post-harvest losses due to handling and deformities,” he said.
Zimunya said while the alternative market is still low in Zimbabwe, there is a lucrative market for banana by products.
“The alternative foods market is still a bit slow in Zimbabwe, but we are now tapping into some regional markets that are quite good, our hope is to introduce Zimbabweans to a new food culture.
“There is a great opportunity to value addition along value chains by targeting post-harvest losses to make products that have a lot of international demand. We started with banana flour, now we’re getting into industrial gluten free thickeners. There’s a big export market for such products,” Zimunya said.
Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Ministry pledged to support banana value addition as it has potential to generate more foreign currency than the golden leaf.
Tobacco generates an average of US$400 million per annum.
“Banana farming is a money printing machine and if fully capitalised it has the capacity to bring more foreign currency than tobacco. As government we stand ready to assist those that seek to venture into banana value addition,” said the Ministry of Agriculture in statement.
Zimbabwe failed to capitalise on a landmark opportunity after a giant Polish firm Citronex Group engaged local players with an intention to import US$50 million worth of bananas per year.
Under challenges, Zimunya said they still need to gain the trust from farmers.
“They have been treated unfairly by a lot of conmen and this affects the way they relate with new buyers like us,” he said.
Banana smallholder farmers’ spokesperson Artwell Bandama said there are willing to support the new venture.
Zimbabwe’s banana sector is mainly composed of giant producer Matanuska Holdings – a subsidiary of Rift Valley Corporation, Sun Span and smallholder farmers.
There are a wide variety of banana by-products which range from banana flour, chips, sauce, juice, wine, to vinegar while yoghurt is the widely manufactured processed product in the country.