Why are not more African entrepreneurs investing in dried fruit?

By Jaco Maritz

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to many fruit crops. However, every year large volumes of this fruit go to waste: those that vendors are unable to sell are left to rot in the street while some are never even harvested. Yet, there is a large international market for dried fruit, particularly as consumers worldwide adopt healthier lifestyles.

Over the years, I’ve heard some commentators say entrepreneurs are missing an opportunity by not drying this excess fruit and selling it to local and international consumers. But is it really that simple to start a fruit-drying operation? To find out more, I spoke to Jaco le Roux, founder of Mozambique-based fruit drying company AfriFruta. His company produces dried mango, pineapple, papaya and banana for the international market.

According to Le Roux, a lot of the fruit grown in Africa is not the correct cultivar for drying. For instance, many types of mangoes are not suitable because they are too fibrous for consumer tastes in major export markets such as Europe.

A viable fruit drying business has to have scale; international buyers are not interested in purchasing only small quantities. It can take up to 15 tonnes of fresh mangoes to obtain one tonne of dried fruit. Reliable access to large volumes is therefore essential.

Fruit drying is also a capital-intensive exercise, explains Le Roux. Producing large quantities requires a proper factory with all the necessary equipment and, to receive internationally recognised food safety certifications as demanded by most retailers, the factory must have strict controls and processes in place.

Le Roux says one of the biggest mistakes he has seen Africa’s agriculture and food sector entrepreneurs make is not adequately thinking through their proposed ventures. Before investing, they need to ensure there is a market for the products they intend to produce and that a country has the necessary infrastructure to support their operations. He has seen several failed agriculture ventures in Mozambique. “Because land is relatively cheap, there are a lot of people coming in to start a cattle or a maize farm, for example. But after they planted a 100 hectares of maize, they realise there is no market for it or no silos to store it. So do your homework properly.”