The Southern African Customs Union (SACU) has taken a silent stance on Botswana and Namibia closing its borders to a number of fruit and vegetables imported from South Africa. But while South African farmers plead for intervention, farmers on both borders say it will remove some unfair disadvantages they have faced.
The two countries, which are part of the SACU umbrella along with South Africa, say their respective bans are aimed at protecting local producers and are part of a wider bid to become self-sufficient in food security.
Farmers in South Africa, however, argue that the move is against trade agreements and have called for government and SACU intervention.
In an interview with Food For Mzansi, SACU spokesperson Kungo Mabogo says the issue can only be handled by the three countries bilaterally.
“SACU only has a position when all SACU member states are involved, and they need to form a common view. We cannot speak for Botswana, Namibia or South Africa because they are independent governments and they have their own structures,” he explains.
It comes after Christo van der Rheede, executive director of Agri SA, appealed to agriculture minister Thoko Didiza and trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel. Van der Rheede asked ministers to step in and help ensure compliance with the SACU deal.
The advantage of South African farmers over Namibian producers
Botswana has blocked South African exports of tomatoes, carrots, beets, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, chillies, butternut squash, watermelon, peppers, flour greens and fresh herbs since the beginning of the year. ‘year.
Botswana announced the two-year ban in December 2021 in a move that was quickly followed by Namibia, which restricted imports from South Africa in January this year.
Akathingo Kapuka, a market gardener in Namibia, tells Food For Mzansi that fruit and vegetable markets in his country are almost non-existent. Local producers are struggling to secure markets in the country where most supermarkets are apparently owned by South African conglomerates, he says.
“There are no markets, especially for small farmers. Each farmer is alone, which makes it difficult to coordinate the production of a variety of vegetables.
According to Kapuka, locally produced fruits and vegetables generally cost more than those imported from South Africa, giving Namibian supermarkets an advantage over local farmers.
“The high prices of the inputs we use in the production of these vegetables are the main driver for the high prices of locally produced vegetables,” says Kapuka.
According Namibian Agricultural Council (NAB) spokesman Auguste Fabian, they currently import almost 100% of their agricultural inputs from South Africa. This means that South African farmers have an almost 25% production cost advantage over Namibian farmers, due to Namibia’s high input costs, Fabian explains.
According to NAB, Namibia exported horticultural and agricultural products worth $400 million to South Africa in 2020 and the country imported products from South Africa worth $5.2 billion. of dollars.
Meanwhile, Kapuka believes the ban offers Namibian farmers a unique opportunity.
“The opportunity right now lies in organizing and coordinating farmers to work together, so that together they produce enough quantities, in succession to continuously meet the demand that exists in the Namibian market.”
By doing this, supermarkets won’t have the luxury of forcing local producers to bid against each other for losses, Kapuka says.
Affected availability in Botswana
Ronald Lephodisa, a market gardener in Botswana, says market gardening has seen a positive rise in Botswana since the import ban.
“The farming community was thrilled. Even retired farmers have returned to farming.
The ban and recent frost have however affected the availability of some vegetables in Botswana.
According to Lephodisa, “there is still a shortage of onions, mushrooms, lettuce, green peppers and cucumbers, among others. Our extremely hot conditions also affect our performance.
“The biggest challenge is the lack of organization in this sector as farmers tend to be reactionary in crop selection. For example, when there is a shortage of a particular crop, they will all plow it without any coordination.
According Trade economyin 2021, Botswana imported vegetables, fruits and nuts from South Africa worth $67.91 million.
SA organized the agri not happy
Van der Rheede of Agri SA has in the meantime called on the government to protect local farmers as South African jobs and incomes are also at stake.
In a press release, Van der Rheede said: “South African farmers already face immense competitive challenges as the national minimum wage of R23.19 far exceeds labor costs in Namibia. and Botswana at R12.23 and R5.05 respectively.
“The additional hardship the bans are placing on South African farmers violates the letter and spirit of the Southern African Customs Union agreements.”
Agri SA says the government must meet with the Agricultural Trade Forum to take appropriate action before the agricultural sector suffers irreparable damage.
“If the government cannot get these unilateral bans lifted, Agri SA calls on the government to implement reciprocal measures and take the additional steps necessary to protect local farmers,” Van der Rheede said.
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