72% horticulture firms lay off workers, … as COVID- 19 bites

By Edward Mukaro
ZIMBABWE’s horticulture sector has been hit-hard by he COVID- 19 pandemic, with a recorded 72 percent (%) of companies in the sector laying off workers, according to the latest Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison committee (COLEACP) report.
The report that was carried out with the assistance of respected trade development body, ZimTrade, covered 11 crops, with the main horticultural crops under the spotlight being berries, sugar snaps, green beans, French beans and sweet potatoes.
The survey, which was conducted between June and early July (2020) with the stakeholders in the horticulture sector with the aim of getting data on the impact of the current health and economic crisis throughout March-May brought to light shocking statistics that would most certainly require a viable strategic plan to revamp the sector, post-COVID- 19, or at least when the situation stabilizes.
According to COLEACP, “ 72% of companies had reduced the number of casual workers they employed, with half of those companies ceasing to employ casual workers altogether.
As if that was not enough, the sector received further knocks as, “45% of respondents saw orders reduced by more than 50%, and a significant percentage were not able to honour existing contracts.
“45% reported that prices were lower than in March-May 2019, although 27% reported higher prices than in 2019,” said COLEACP.
Furthermore, the dire market induced by COVID- 19 saw most companies recording a reduced market demand from prospective clients and reduced orders from existing supply contracts. 45% of respondents saw orders reduced by more than 50%.
No company experienced increased market demand, and a significant percentage was not able to honour existing contracts.
Most of the companies reported that they were not receiving any government support. Difficulties cited included lack of funds to pay wages, limited access to foreign currency, unstable and unpredictable working capital, police roadblocks, and cash payments making it difficult to respect social distancing.
ZimTrade has said the horticulture sector is strategic to the economy given its potential in job creation, poverty alleviation and generation of foreign currency along the value chain.
The sector is targeting to contribute 10(%) of the country’s total export earnings in the near future, riding on an anticipated rise in demand from new markets across the globe.
The Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison Committee (COLEACP) is a civil society organisation established in 1973 by stakeholders in the international fruit and vegetable trade. It is a not-for-profit association that supports the development of sustainable and competitive agriculture and agri-business. Its main objective is to facilitate the flow of trade within the ACP region, and between ACP countries and the EU.

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