The food processing industry needs to make major changes in its products and markets so as to take into account what the farmers who provide the raw material can actually grow and how the Government provided and backed input financing works.
The major changes will be in the formulation of cooking oil and sadza flours, since there will be far higher percentages of sunflower and cotton-seed oils than soyabean oils, and higher percentages of the traditional grains as compared to maize.
On the vegetable oil front sunflower has become a major crop, mainly in the smallholder sector, over the last season and in the coming season the harvest of sunflower is likely to be almost three times the harvest of soyabean.
The far lower imports, and perhaps even end of oilseed imports, will see sunflower become the dominant oil seed, and soyabean probably drop to third behind sunflower and cotton seed, with a major thrust to push cotton production.
For some decades until very recently soyabean oil was the dominant ingredient of cooking oils, and in many cases was marketed as a sole ingredient in many brands.
This arose from the high soya production by the commercial tobacco farmers before land reform, who used soyabean as a major part of their crop rotation, and then in the days of exceptionally high imports, seeing soya dominate these imports.
Cotton was the other major local oil seed, and while cotton seed requires more processing and refining than soya beans, both to break the hulk from the seed and then to remove the gossypol, a toxin to humans, but not to cattle so it never affected stockfeeds, it was a cheaper product so the final cost of the refined product was roughly the same.
Sunflower was always around, but mostly as a smallholder crop in communal lands. There was a time when a premium brand was made and sold, and then production declined, only to be suddenly revived and now in a major way over a couple of seasons.
One problem where vegetable oil manufacturers have backed themselves into a corner is in their marketing since the revival of the local seed oil processing industry, mainly by newcomers to the business, who have been heavily marketing pure soyabean oils, rather than the blended oils of former manufacturers.
However at least two manufacturers have been marketing pure sunflower oils, one for several years and one just recently, and we can assume that as sunflower moves to the top of the oil seed supply chains the rest will need to follow.
After initially charging a premium on price for sunflower, it now appears that the sunflower seed processers are willing, with the local production of the seed, to have very similar prices to their soya and more general blends.
For some reason, cottonseed oils have never been marketed as such.
There are clues to those who know their oils in some of the labelling, with the phrases “the long-lasting one” or “longer lasting” being a big hint that the brand contains a fair amount of cotton seed oil, and perhaps might even be mostly cotton seed.
Among cooking oils cotton seed oil has easily the lowest oxidation rates, meaning that it does indeed last longer.
This is one reason why in some countries those in the fried food restaurant industry prefer cotton seed oils, and while manufacturers of prepacked meals prefer to use cottonseed oil for the vegetable oil content.
Sunflower, soya and cotton have the same four basic ingredients of esters of fatty acids.
All three are made up of more than half of the esters of linoleic acid, a poly unsaturated oil, with the proportion varying from 52 percent for cottonseed oil to 63 percent for soya oil.
Percentages of oleic acid, a monounsaturate, vary more from 18 percent for cottonseed oil to 30 percent for sunflower, making sunflower a bit closer to olive oil where oleic acid can be more than 80 percent of the product.
The two saturated fats palmitic and stearic make up the rest, although they form the majority of animal fats. Stearic in the three Zimbabwean vegetable oils is fairly low and almost the same, ranging from 4 percent for soya to 6 percent for sunflower.
Palmitic oils can vary more dramatically from 5 percent in sunflower to almost 25 percent in cottonseed, where it even exceeds the 20 percent found in olive oils.
With the sort of refining that should be in place the three oils are largely tasteless, although cottonseed oil does require the most work to remove unwanted colour and possibly taste.
But with what will be physically available to Zimbabwean industrialists a lot of marketing opportunities open up for both blends and for pure oils, and the industrialists are going to have to wean some consumers off the pure soyabean oils that they became used to in the days of massive imports.
So creative marketing, which has already started, needs to be intensified.
The other area where agro-industrial processors are going to have to think hard is to cope with the growing percentage of sorghum and pearl millet in the national grain harvest.
These grains form the mainstay of the cereal harvest in almost half the country, and while no one is banning maize in the dryer areas, no one is giving inputs or lending money for inputs for dryland maize farming outside natural regions two and three. It is just throwing money away four years out of five.
This is producing a lot of traditional grain and while some can be used in stockfeeds, to replace the maize that might be wasted there, there is a need for a major marketing campaign to build up brands for family meals.
Traditional grains are, what their name suggests, the traditional grains of Zimbabwe. Maize only started finding its way into sadzas in the 1920s, just being a green vegetable that was roasted from the time it came up the trade routes from the coast until that
Over the next half century it took over and now no one thinks of sadza made of anything except white maize.
There were reasons, largely built around the ease of processing and the ease of grinding, for the maize takeover, but the near total replacement does present a marketing challenge.
The food processing industry may need to think through some of the problems, from the least tasty varieties pushed by seed companies, to the desire for a single processed flour.
The traditional method of cooking traditional grains was a two-step process, perhaps to cope with the far harder seed but which may have had taste advantages.
While modern grinding technology can grind dried traditional grains into flour in one pass, someone needs to experiment to see if the two-stage process is better when it comes to taste and customer acceptability.
The health-food sector has also been experimenting with malting the grain, and in South Africa there is a very popular breakfast porridge made from malted sorghum, and other processing tricks.
These products tend to be specialist and expensive so there is a major window of opportunity for an agro-industrialist to see what can be done with bulk processing in a factory and climb in with the economies of scale.
The farming sector has been highly innovative, and has moved Zimbabwe back into near total self-sufficiency so far as food is concerned, but the mix of oil seeds and mix of cereals are not what had come to be considered the norm.
But they are reasonable close, and the greater variety of products does offer opportunity as well as challenges.
The marketing will almost certainly require far closer links between manufacturers and consumers, and between manufacturers, nutritionists and quality cooks.
For example if you are trying to put out a new product built around traditional grains then adding recipes to the back of pack seems to be important.
When cotton seed was overtaking animal fats in the United States, William Proctor and James Gamble, who had married sisters and were pushed into business together by their common father-in-law, were among the pioneers and figured out that the cost of a free recipe book could be hidden in the profits of the vastly increased sales those recipes generated.