Freshly grown blueberries in Zambia (XINHUA)
As the world's largest consumer market and also the largest global agricultural importer, it is projected that the total import of goods and services in China will top $22 trillion in the coming decade, according to sources from the Third China International Import Expo held in November last year in Shanghai.
With China's prominence in spearheading key cooperation projects in most African countries in areas such as energy, infrastructure, health and agriculture, and people's livelihoods has seen a marked improvement.
However, access to the large Chinese market is a critical element in the success of most African enterprises keen to export their range of agricultural produce.
Fruitful agrarian cooperation
Zambia's favorable natural conditions for agricultural development, coupled with China's cooperation in this important sector, have already shown signs of success.
Known for its quality blueberry production, Zambia has become the latest African nation to gain access to the Chinese market, where the super-food produce will no doubt be a big hit with the growing numbers of health-conscious Chinese. The export deal marks the culmination of a three-year process after Zambia applied for market access in 2017.
The Zambian freshly grown blueberry export permit to China comes barely two years after another successful story of bilateral cooperation in agriculture, where the export of Zambian honey to China deal was sealed. The honey export protocol was signed by Zambia and China during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Summit held in September 2018.
Although the northern hemisphere still dominates global blueberry production, South American producers and exporters have experienced a rapid rise in exports of this fruit, thanks largely to their access to key markets including the U.S., Europe and China among others.
The northern hemisphere accounts for 84 percent of global blueberry growing area. Of the 16 percent of blueberry hectares planted in the southern hemisphere, Chile and Peru account for some 80 percent, according to a recent published report of the International Blueberry Organization (IBO).
While Zambia is still dwarfed by blueberry producing giants such as the U.S. and Canada, which are vying for markets in China and South Korea, scaling up local production would further expand the industry.
Presently, the whole of Southern Africa produces less than 6 percent of the world's blueberry plantations, according to IBO. There is therefore much potential for Southern Africa to compete with South America on the global blueberry stage.
Zambian farm workers pick blueberries (XINHUA)
Since Zambia was granted approval to export blueberries to China, all necessary access protocols have been finalized, and the required notice of authority has been issued by the Chinese customs authority.
Having met the stipulated phytosanitary requirements permissible for exports to China, coupled with the concerted efforts of both sides, the Protocol of the Phytosanitary Requirements for Export of Zambian Fresh Blueberries to China between the General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China and Zambia's Ministry of Agriculture was signed on September 7, 2020. The Zambezi Berry Co. is now formally listed and can export to China, with its first shipments of Zambian blueberries to leave this year.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu expressed joy that Zambia is the only country in the Southern African Development Community region to have access to the lucrative market for blueberries in China.
"My government is focusing on policy and legislative reforms to educate local farmers on the emerging trends and opportunities in the agriculture sector," Lungu said during the flagging off ceremony of inaugural export of blueberries to China on November 17, 2020. "There is a need for the agriculture sector to be transformed [to become] export oriented in order for the economy to grow."
The Zambian head of state observed that the Chinese market imports a significant quantity of blueberries from countries in North and South Americas, hence was gratified that Zambia was positioning itself to compete for a larger share of the blueberry market in China.
The agricultural cooperation between China and Zambia will have a very bright future and as a country receiving preferential treatment, more than 95 percent of Zambian products are granted duty free access to the Chinese market, according to the Chinese Embassy in Zambia.
It is for this reason that Chinese Ambassador to Zambia Li Jie is optimistic that many more Zambian companies will take advantage of the good opportunities and export more high-quality agricultural products to China.
Li said that exporting the Zambian fresh blueberries to China is a milestone for agricultural cooperation between China and Zambia. It will contribute greatly to the promotion of the bilateral economic and trade cooperation and the development of friendly relations between the two countries, said Li.
"I wish therefore to take this opportunity to extend to the Zambezi Berry Co. my best wishes for bright prospects. It is my firm belief that the company will provide quality products to Chinese customers and create more jobs for Zambians," he said during the inspection of the blueberry fields and processing plant located in Chisamba, 20 km north of Lusaka, Zambia's capital.
Zambezi Berry Co. is a joint venture between Zambezi Ranching & Cropping, agribusinesses in Zambia, and the United Exports Group, an innovative market leader operating throughout the agricultural supply chain, from breeding to distribution, focusing primarily on its OZblu blueberries globally.
Zambezi Berry Co., with an investment of $4.5 million, plans to expand up to 500 hectares and become the single-largest standalone blueberry orchards in Southern Africa.
"We are extremely excited about this new opportunity to access one of the largest markets in the world. We are confident that, by maintaining our world-class quality with these world-leading OZblu varieties while significantly increasing quantity, we can successfully compete with some of the biggest global producers," said Zambezi Berry Co. Managing Director Graham Rae.
The beginning of 2020 saw the end of some of the lowest prices of blueberries in years, but recently global prices have indicated a strong recovery with the average price of conventional berries fetching around $8.31 per kg, which is 94 percent higher than in 2019, according to FreshFruitPortal.com. "Zambia is extremely well placed to supply for export into the northern hemisphere during the August-November window and this is a marvelous achievement for Zambia and is expected to be the first of many celebrations, as Africa gains ground in the international blueberry market," emphasized Rae.
(Print Edition Title: Berry Good News)
Reporting from Zambia
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