The European Union (EU) has lifted a blanket ban on Tanzania’s grown bitter gourd to access its lucrative markets, breathing a sigh of relief to local farmers and exporters.
In November 2022, EU reported to have detected presence of quarantine pest hosted in the MomordicaCharantia, prompting the European Commission to prohibit the bitter gourd crop export into EU markets, hitting hard a multi-million-shilling industry.
Tanzania being a producer of bitter gourd fruit between January 2021 and July 2022, exported around 220 metric tonnes of the crops to United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland, earning the economy 691,000 US dollars (about 1.5bn/-).
Tanzania was required to present before the EU the pest surveillance report proving the absence of ThripspalmiKarny for it to be allowed to export the fruit to the EU markets.
As it happened, the country’s key driver of horticulture industry, TAHA through the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP) funded Horticulture Transformation for Inclusive Growth (HOTIGRO) had to intervene working closely with Tanzania Plant Health and Pesticides Authority (TPHPA) in conducting pest surveillance in all bitter gourd producing areas in Tanzania.
TAHA’s Chief Executive Officer, DrJacqueline Mkindi said that during the pest surveillance, samples were taken from the farmers and presented to the laboratory for test analysis to substantiate whether they have the ThripsPalmiKarny or otherwise.
“Fortunately the results from the surveillance indicated that Tanzania is free from ThripspalmiKarny, and that the bitter gourd are produced in an area that is free from Spodopterafrugiperda”DrMkindi explained.
Then, the pest surveillance report was submitted to the EU for their consideration and lifts the ban on export of Tanzanian grown bitter gourd fruit to its markets.
“After reviewing the pest surveillance report, the Plant Health Unit under the European Commission declared Tanzania to be eligible to export bitter gourd fruit to the EU under condition (a) of point 71 of Annex VII of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2072”DrMkindi said.
Indeed, the European Commission congratulated Tanzania for reaching the important milestone in the phytosanitary certification system in compliance with the EU phytosanitary requirements.
“With your written communication notifying the commission that Tanzania is free from ThripspalmiKarny, Tanzania is therefore, eligible to export bitter gourd fruit to the EU,” reads a statement wrote by a policy officer in the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) of European Commission, Dr Leonard Shumbe.
Bitter gourd farmers in Tanzania, one of evolving Africa’s top fruits growers and exporters to the EU, have welcomed renewed exports to Europe, saying the blanket outlaw was a blow to them who had started to venture into the value chain since 2021 when it was introduced in country, thanks to the key industry country’s driver TAHA.
Prospects were high that farmers would raise their glasses to toast for windfall earnings, after the industry’s flamboyant driver, TAHA, had successfully unlocked a lucrative EU’s market for bitter gourd fruit only to find themselves in a quagmire after the EU ban.
In its efforts to capture international markets, TAHA through the HOTIGRO project had embraced a bitter gourd with high demands in Germany and UK, owing to its nutritional values.
“We’ve added a bitter gourd in the list of our commercial and high horticultural value chain” she said, adding: “As a result from December to mid February 2022, TAHA facilitated farmers to export over 44 metric tonnes of bitter gourd to Germany, fetching them 60m/- directly and the economy 132,000 US dollars, implying that the crop is highly lucrative”.
Dr Mkindi said that before the EU export ban projections were that local farmers would have been exported 350 metric tonnes between February and June, earning them 472.5m/- directly and the economy 1.05 million US dollars.
In the same season, the bitter gourd value chain would have been created 750 employments, 90 percent being the women and youth who would have earned emoluments worth 45m/-, TAHA boss said.
In the November 2022 and May 2023 season, the bitter gourd farmers were expected to export 1,400 metric tonnes and earn them 1.8bn/- and the economy 4.2 million US dollars,TAHA projections show.