• Zimbabwe's sugar production to increase by 3% in 2023/24.
  • Sugar cane production area to expand by 1% in 2023/24.

Sandton - Zimbabwe's sugar industry is set to see steady growth in production and exports in the 2023/24 marketing year (MY), according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"Post forecasts that sugar cane production will increase by 1% to 3.5 million metric tons (MT) in marketing year 2023/24, while sugar production is expected to rise by 3% to 410,000 MT," the report stated.

The increase in production is attributed to a return to normal weather conditions, sufficient irrigation water, and an expansion in planted area. However, the industry continues to grapple with issues such as the impact of pests and diseases, high input costs, and infrastructure constraints.

Post forecasts that the area under sugar cane production in Zimbabwe will increase by 1% to 54,350 hectares (ha) in marketing year 2023/24, up from 54,000 ha in the previous year. This expansion is driven by the government's Project Kilimanjaro initiative, which aims to bring an additional 200 new farmers and 4,000 ha under sugar cane production in the short term.

"The availability of water for irrigation remains crucial, as the majority of Zimbabwe's sugar cane relies on irrigation," the report said. "Dam levels, while slightly lower than in the previous year, are expected to provide sufficient water for the 2023/24 sugar cane crop."

Sugar production in 2022/23 was revised downward due to several factors, including the impact of the yellow sugarcane aphid, heavy rainfall, and increased input costs, which affected cane quality and yields.

On the consumption side, Post forecasts that sugar consumption in Zimbabwe will increase by 1% to 283,810 MT in MY 2023/24, up from 280,000 MT in the previous year. This modest growth is attributed to population growth, increased imports in MY 2022/23, and higher incomes.

The report also noted that Zimbabwe's sugar exports are expected to decrease by 3% to 25,000 MT in MY 2023/24, down from 25,692 MT in the previous year, due to a continued reduction in exports to the region, particularly due to restrictive trade policies in Kenya.

Notwithstanding, recent export data reveals that the country is currently utilizing only half of its surplus production, resulting in a 50% capacity utilization rate. This underutilization presents a strategic opportunity to capitalize on emerging market demands, particularly in light of the current global supply chain challenges, which have created a favorable environment for exploiting untapped pockets of demand in the international market.

Despite the industry's growth prospects, Zimbabwe's sugar sector continues to face several challenges, including the impact of pests and diseases, high input costs, and infrastructure constraints. The industry is also grappling with the implications of the closure of the Star Africa refinery.

According to the data, Zimbabwe's raw sugar exports are expected to decrease from 19,992 metric tons in 2021/22 to 18,887 metric tons in 2022/23. This decline is attributed to reduced regional exports, particularly to markets like Kenya that have implemented restrictive trade policies.

In contrast, Zimbabwe's refined sugar exports are projected to decrease from 8,725 metric tons in 2021/22 to 6,805 metric tons in 2022/23, as the country leverages its domestic refining capacity to serve global markets. The statistics highlight Zimbabwe's position as a significant exporter of both raw and refined sugar, despite facing headwinds in certain export destinations.

However, the industry remains optimistic and is exploring opportunities to diversify its product portfolio, such as the production of ethanol from sugar cane. The government's Project Kilimanjaro initiative also presents a promising avenue for growth.

- Equity Axis News