The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
ONE of the country’s leading agribusiness concerns, Sondelani Ranching will soon start exporting tomato paste from its newly commissioned processing plant in Bulawayo into the region as it forges ahead to consolidate revenues of its latest business unit.
Sondelani Ranching chief executive officer Mr Peter Cunningham said the $2 million state-of-the-art tomato processing plant had processed about 2 000 tonnes as part of its trial runs.
“We just did the trial runs, we did about a thousand to 1 800 tonnes of tomatoes to make sure it’s working. Its ready to go and I think we have a good market for it (tomato paste), so we are very excited. Tomatoes are on the ground, farmers are growing them so we should start harvesting them until the end of November,” he said.
Mr Cunningham said the tomato factory was most likely to run from October to June annually as production of the fruit would be at its peak during that period. The company has already made plans to export within the region.
“The first 6 000 tonnes will be in Zimbabwe to replace imports and after that it will be Namibia, DRC, and South Africa. There is a very big demand in South Africa, they are already pushing us there,” said Mr Cunningham.
South Africa imports about 30 000 tonnes of tomato paste annually while the other biggest importers are Democratic Republic of Congo (16 630), Angola (16 000) and Namibia (1 208). Mr Cunningham said the company was prompted to set up the tomato processing plant so as to uptake the anticipated large produce from farmers trained under the Turning Matabeleland Green (TMG) programme.
“When we started TMG we saw that tomatoes are very well situated for Matabeleland and farmers can make a very good profit from a small area. So we thought if we (farmers) can produce . . . we will flood the market very quickly. So we said if we are telling farmers to farm tomatoes and if everybody listens to that we are all going to end up getting poor because we will be having rotten tomatoes. So that’s when we said then we must export,” he said.
TMG is a non-profit making organisation formed in 2013 that seeks to develop a network of competent farmer partners to meet the country’s growing food and export needs. To date over 13 000 small-scale farmers have been trained under its programmes.
Farmers supplying tomatoes under TMG are classified under different categories namely platinum, gold, silver and bronze.
The platinum category which consists of farmers contracted under various financial institutions is made up of about 100 to 200 members.
The gold category consists of 600 to 1 000 farmers that supply all their produce to the plant while silver categories has 4 000 to 5 000 farmers that grow tomatoes to sell part of their produce to the factory while channelling some of it to other markets.
The bronze category makes up the rest of the farmers that received training.
TMG co-director Bishop Patson Netha acknowledged that most of the tomato crop that is supplied to the processing plant came from farmers linked under with the institute.
“Sondelani Ranching is the off-taker and we are hoping that it won’t be the only off-taker . . . we are hoping that many other businesses that are agro-based will actually be able to buy from us but right now Sondelani Ranching is the off-taker,” he said.
Bishop Netha said farmers are encouraged to grow tomatoes that best suit to be processed at the tomato processing factory.
“The tomato puree factory should have a certain kind of a tomato, it’s not every tomato that is there, it has to be a tomato that is suitable for making tomato puree. There are two kinds of tomatoes, the table tomato, which has a lot of water while the other one has a lot of chewy flesh, which is good for processing,” he said.
Seed Co regional sales manager-vegetables Mr Silas Mutota said the company has introduced tomato varieties meant for processing purposes.
“Processing is starting in a big way and industries are opening. We have good varieties like Pietrarossa that are for processing and Chibli which is for duel purposes. So we are encouraging all those that are processing to take them up as you know now we have a tomato processing plant in Matabeleland.