Mat South eyes pecan nut industry

Pecan nuts

Martin Kadzere
PECAN nut production is poised to become an industry with potential to change the economic landscape, particularly in Matabeleland South, where considerable progress has been made to establish nurseries and orchards.

Pecan trees are native to central and southern North America, and were a food source by Native Americans for centuries before the arrival of colonists, according to SeedGuide.Info, a website, which provides information on history and characteristics of various seeds. The plants were not domesticated until the 17th century, when the first plantations of pecans were established in Mexico. Raw pecans can be salted or sweetened to make snacks.

Pecans can be processed to make pecan edible pressed oil. The production of pecan tress plantations require long-term commitment as it takes about seven to eight years before harvesting. Already, a combined 140 hectares of the pecans trees aged between two to eight years have already been established by the pioneers of the project in the region and efforts are now underway to expand the plantations by roping in small to large scale farmers.

“We decided to start pecan production in 2008 because climatic conditions are good for the trees,” said Harold Schur, one of the pioneers of the project during a familiarisation tour organised by The Agriculture Rural Development Authority at Pezulu Ranch in Shangani. “What you see here are the trees in the second year of production. “The climate in this part of the country is very suitable . . . very cold winters and very hot summers.” Pezulu Ranch is owned by businessman James Ross. Goddard, a partner to Mr Schur.

The climate is even better compared to South Africa, which already has an established pecan nut industry, said Mr Schur adding Zimbabwe could take advantage of ideal weather conditions, growing demand and good prices of the nuts. “Demand in China alone is in excess of 50 000 tonnes annually at an average price of $6000 per tonne,” said Mr Ted Galante, another partner in the project. So when the tress fully mature, we can harvest between two and half to three tonnes per hectare.”

Growing pecan nuts requires long term commitment and capital as it take up to eight years to see a return, said Mr Galante. At least $4 000 is required to establish a hectare. “The industry needs patient capital (and for it) to grow the Government, the banks and financial institutions should have a buy in. The technical aspects are in place, the markets are known. So capital and land are the most important things needed,” he said.

Government and Arda could play a role of providing land for both small scale and large scale farmer, he added. At Makova Estates, in Fort Rixon, about three hectares of nursery with close 80 000 plants has been established. “We intend to have at least 150 000 plants per year and we have already seen interests from Non-Governmental Organisations who want to assist small scale farmers. They have already visited us and showed a lot of excitement,” said Mr Galante.

Arda chairman Mr Basil Nyabadza, who led the delegation from the authority said Zimbabwe stood to benefit from planting pecan trees, particularly in the Matabeleland. “Tobacco grows well mostly in the northern parts of the country,” he said. “So we are saying this is the ‘tobacco’ of the south. The pecan tree is what we must grow in abundance. “It will add value to our economic drive.”

Tobacco is the country largest single foreign currency earner. “Of course, there is a risk element but risk comes with a profit. For the small scale farmers, you can now take up this initiative. Your one hectare as a family is ideal, especially our youths. “There is appetite for pecan nuts across the world and this country; because of our unique climate change environment; we should seriously consider taking up this project. “We want to see our 62 plus rural districts participating. There will be satellite units to establish the nurseries. We want people to come on board to run this marathon to develop the economy.”

He said Arda has already identified land where it intends to establish pecan nuts orchards. – Herald

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