ANALYSIS:What has gone wrong with the groundnut market in Zimbabwe?

Groundnut has traditionally been a famous cash cow in Zimbabwe. Many Cabinet ministers, captains of industry, academics and bankers can testify to have gone to school because their parents were able to raise school fees through groundnut production and marketing.

From those who knew him, the founder of Zimbabwe’s largest poultry company Irvine’s Day Old Chicks, is said to have built his poultry enterprise on the back of groundnut marketing. Over the years, seed companies used to produce diverse varieties of groundnut seed. Many agro-dealers used to participate in groundnut aggregation, grading, packaging, selling and processing into peanut butter or cooking oil. The role of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was clearly defined as a major buyer of groundnut.

Since the above is now almost history, smallholder farmers, traders and consumers have devised numerous coping mechanisms to sustain groundnut production and marketing. Since seed companies have shunned groundnut seed production in preference for hybrid maize, farmers have resorted to producing their own seed on-farm and recycling some of the seed.

However, where it is not done properly, recycling of groundnut seed results in low yields and poor quality. According to groundnut producers in Murewa, groundnut loses its purity and seed qualities when inter-cropped indiscriminately. Farmers have to plant groundnut for seed in separate plots. The farmers blame Gypsum for polluting the purity of some local groundnut varieties.

The cost of production has also not worked in favour of local farmers resulting in commercial processors resorting to importing groundnuts from Malawi which lends in Zimbabwe at $700 – $800/ton. Given high cost of inputs, local farmers would find it viable when they sale at $1000/ton.

A positive aspect for farmers is that processors and consumers prefer local groundnut varieties such as Kasawaya whose taste and oil content is said to be far much superior. Given these positive aspects, one would expect development organisations that provide food aid in the form of cooking oil to promote local production of high oil content groundnuts rather than importing.

A key challenge in groundnut production has remained lack of proper identification, resulting in too much cross-breeding. For instance, a large groundnut variety which came from Zambia through Mbare market is now grown in Mwenezi district of Masvingo Province. Farmers plant different varieties on the same piece of land, resulting in massive cross-pollination. The tradition of exchanging seed remains very strong among farmers. Many farmers do not know much about Gypsum while on the other hand, fertiliser suppliers promote use of Compound D and C in groundnuts, even in dry areas where fertilisers rarely desolve in the soil due to lack of rainfall or water.

This is worsened by lack of extension support on groundnuts as a cash crop. Farmers lack sufficient knowledge on expected yield by variety, types of varieties, market demand and scientific names of varieties.

The majority of groundnut varieties are identified by local names. A groundnut called Kasawaya in one area is called Tumbe or Chimhandara in other communities. Sometimes names are used

interchangeably. In Masvingo Kasawaya is called Chinzungwana. There is also confusion on whether Natal Common is what farmers call Kasawaya. In the absence of clear identification, new people entering into groundnut production and marketing may have problems understanding the value chain.

As with other crops, farmers who produce groundnuts are making sense of a changing climate.

Traditionally, groundnuts are planted by mid – October. Now that it is mid- November, farmers are using their local knowledge to decide which variety to plant given that the season has become shorter.

Since commercial seed houses are no longer producing many groundnut varieties, the informal market has become a major source of seed. Perhaps irrigation schemes can play a big role in groundnut production particularly those with reliable supply of water. Fresh groundnuts start coming to the market end of October from irrigation schemes. Winter production of groundnut may go beyond just supplying seed but also income for dry land production.

The role of the informal market

The informal market has become a major player in the groundnut value chain because it presents a ready market with farmers paid cash. This market has also become a reliable source of groundnuts for small and medium scale peanut butter processors and farmers who want to buy groundnut for seed.

This development has presented a paradigm shift in the role of traders who are no longer just selling groundnuts but also advising farmers on what variety to plant as per consumer demand. With at least 90 percent of households in Zimbabwe consuming groundnuts, they need knowledge on the effects of aflatoxins. Traders have some bit of knowledge on aflatoxins.

Major local sources are Murewa, Mutoko and Buhera. External suppliers are Malawi and Zambia.

Common varieties found in Mbare market are Tumbe and Kasawaya. This season, there is a rare variety called White Bob which comes from Buhera. The demand for groundnuts in the market varies from time to time, and on whether they are shelled or unshelled. From September to May, demand surpasses supply and this has seen a 20 litre bucket of shelled groundnuts fetching $22 compared to the on-season when a bucket goes for $15. Fresh groundnuts show up on the market end of October to early November, going for $8 per bucket. During this period, the demand for fresh groundnuts exceeds supply.

Major sources of fresh groundnuts are irrigation schemes in Mutoko and Murewa. When demand is high, some farmers buy groundnuts from fellow farmers using barter trade with clothes, groceries, school uniforms and stationery among other items. This is how high volumes are obtained for the market where large quantities are required. According to Mai Tariro a farmer from Murewa, through barter trade, a pair of school shoes is equivalent to a 20 litre bucket of shelled groundnuts.

Consumers buy groundnuts for peanut butter processing, for eating (whether boiled, raw or roasted) and for seed. The main customers for Mbare are the general public, vendors and traders from other markets. Some farmers who used to sell to big companies have since stopped due to disagreement on payment terms, grading system and other issues.

Companies prefer buying in kilogrammes while farmers prefer selling in buckets. Farmers also tend to mistrust weighing scales which they think are manipulated by buying companies. According to some traders, groundnuts from areas like Rusape tend to have more aflatoxins. However, those from major supplying areas such as Mutoko, Murewa, Buhera and Mt Darwin are afro-toxin free. Another observation from traders is that groundnuts that are treated for storage, the way GMB does it, end up becoming toxic if they stay with the chemical for too long.

Farmers and traders have agreed on their own grading. Three grades are used mainly in the form of counts. The counts are count 5, 6 and 7. Count 5 is the biggest in size and often used for making peanut butter, as well as count 6. Count 7 is the least in size and often used as seed. Traders usually sale count 5 and count 6. Interestingly the prices are just the same when selling per bucket.

Traders who bring groundnuts from Buhera, Murewa, Mutoko and Mt Darwin in bulk store in the market and in local houses. Preservatives like insecticides are used to prevent attack from weevils. A few traders who have tried to import groundnuts said imported groundnuts are usually of poor quality as shown by the price. For instance, a bucket of Malawian groundnuts was fetching $15/bucket against $21 for local groundnuts in October 2014. Peanut butter produced by local small scale processors is sold at $1/bottle while commercial processors, some purchasing groundnuts from outside, charge $1.50/bottle.

Although it has lost some of its glamour, groundnut remains both a cash crop and a wholesome food.

It substitutes a lot of foods – relish, cooking oil, lotion. The full potential of groundnut is yet to be exploited. If targeting high oil content, Kasawaya is far much superior but has low yield on the land.

Once groundnut is fully exploited, consumers can divert money they are currently using for purchasing cooking oil to other needs. Value addition initiatives have to be supported. Some processors have started creating blends such as Maputi nuts. There is also increase in cooking and drying fresh nuts which are then sold. A big question from groundnut value chain actors is: How can breeders come up with a high yielding high content groundnut? – eMkambo

*eMkambo is a market-driven agricultural solution platform. You can contact the writer on the following emails: Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com OR charles@emkambo.co.zw

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