Ariston Holdings: Farm basket of decades

Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed agro-industrial concern, Ariston Holdings, has a history that dates back to the1940s. By then white commercial farmers controlled vast tracts of agricultural land.

Products across units include tea, macadamia, bananas, apples, tomatoes, maize, soyabean, poultry and livestock.

Ariston got listed on the Rhodesian Stock Exchange (RSE) in 1948, shortly before the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was born in 1953.

The listing came barely two years after ZSE forerunner, RSE, was formed in 1946 with Bulawayo brokers’ realisation that selling of shares to foreign markets was both time consuming and expensive.

Ariston Holdings was gradually resized with the land reform process that intensified into a third phase dubbed the fast-track land reform programme (FTLRP) in 2000. The reform sought to right-size British-owned estates accommodate locals. It justifiably sought to calibrate a racially skewed agrarian structure and discriminatory land tenure system that independent Zimbabwe did inherit.

The agro-concern is testimony to resilience demonstrated at a time western capital was instrumental in efforts to isolate the country by way of exporting large-scale white commercial farmers abroad as a punitive response to what its victims perceived to be a controversial agrarian reform.

Shareholding played a significant role in the company’s growth.

In 2005, Delta Beverages, giant among companies, acquired 53,8 percent shareholding in Ariston.

Initially the target was to acquire 70 percent stake. In 2008, Delta resolved to dispose of its 40 percent shareholding in Ariston to concentrate on core beverage business. Delta had bought equity in Ariston to tap into its foreign currency reserves to withstand foreign currency shortages that then obtained. Emvest Zimbabwe Holdings acquired the disposed 40 percent stake in 2009 through the African Land Fund (ALF).

Emvest was a joint venture between Emergent and Grain-vest, a subsidiary of the Russell Stone Group (SA). UK equity, Emergent, had launched the investment fund, African Land Fund (ALF) in 2007 to uplift developing communities through commercially viable, first world practices.

In 2012, however, Emvest exited and sold its 42 percent stake to AfriFresh, a South African horticultural company. This expanded the company’s foreign market although Ariston felt a temporary blow.

Consequentially Ariston sought to recapitalise via a US$8 million rights offer which AfriFresh underwrote.

In 2015, Origin Global Holdings Limited, paramount shareholder then, sought to boost its stake through a debt-to-equity transaction. Ariston was indebted to the former with an amount that had soared to $5,5 million.

In 2017, Ariston Holdings sold its distribution wing, FAVCO. FAVCO had entered an agreement to supply OK Zimbabwe with fresh produce. Business units include Southdown Estate, Claremont orchards, Clearwater Estate, Kent Estate, Roscommon and Blended tea factory. These units are pigeon-holed into four strategic units in northern and eastern regions of Zimbabwe.

Claremont Estate in Nyanga produces potatoes, apples, passion and stone fruits.

It is a certified seed potato producer together with Kent Estate in Norton, which also produces both horticultural and raw crops like tomatoes, pepper, peas, maize, soya bean, together with poultry.

Clearwater Estate in Chipinge produces macadamia nuts, ristonuts and avocados.

Southdown and Roscommon Estates both produces tea.

The company owns Blended tea factory in Chipinge where bulk tea is value added and packaged. Three leaves and crest tea are popular brands. The company’s market capitalisation stood at $106 431 672 with a share price of 6,54 cents as at trading day 10 September 2019.

Paul Spears is the current group chief executive officer.–ebusinessweeklyc

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