In 2019 government invoked the Control of Goods, Prices and Other Charges Act to impose restrictions on imports of “butternuts, cocktail tomatoes, tomatoes, onions, green mealies and chilies.”
Choppies Chief Executive Officer Ramachandran Ottapathu said the piece of legislation has affected the supply of horticultural produce in his retail outlets.
Ottapathu indicated that the ongoing shortage of vegetable produce has left their shelves empty, saying that should the situation fail to normalize this could spell doom to their business.
“There is a piece of legislation in place which hinders us from importing vegetables and you will understand that before this Act was put in place, we used to import and we never ran out of stock,”
“At this juncture there is nothing we can do, we only have to rely on local produce even though it is clear that due to this season we will not be able to have stock,” said Ottapatu.
He further said they have tried to caution against the legislation but their efforts fell on deaf ears.
“We can only hope that government will realize how this badly affects business and reconsider its stance because this situation cannot be allowed to go on for this long,” added Ottapathu.
For his part, Head of retail for Sefalana Sunil Urath stated that they remain hopeful that government will open up the borders, saying that they recently lobbied government to do so.
“We have met with the Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security Karabo Gare about this matter and he promised to look into this issue because it has affected business,”
“Government knows about the potato situation for instance and it has become difficult since January this year to have potatoes in store,” said Urath.
He stated that as a result of vegetable shortage in the country, informal traders and restaurants are struggling to keep up.
“We have previously engaged farmers and they were honest enough to tell us that some produce such as potatoes will only be available from March or April and this means that we cannot afford to wait any longer,”
“We are at least expecting government to open up the borders for a month so that retailers can stock up and supply the affected businesses,” added Urath.
Urath also said they continue to engage government to ensure that there is an uninterrupted supply of horticultural produce adding that they are hopeful that a permanent solution will be identified.
“Government already knows our position in relation to the supply of horticultural produce and we are hoping that as time goes all stakeholders will engage and put the issue to bed,” stated Urath.
Last year, statistics Botswana indicated that the country’s food import bill rose to P823.8 million in May something which tempted government to further tighten import restrictions.
The data also showed that this represents an increase of 11 percent compared to the P752 million spent on food in the period of January 2021.
Chairperson of the Botswana Horticulture Council Boikaego Phole has previously stated that farmers had intensified efforts to ensure uninterrupted supply.
He said one of the challenges was that a lot of money was lost through importation of horticulture produce which retailers sourced from South Africa.