South African agricultural producers say the ongoing vegetable import restrictions in Botswana and Namibia have created an unfair playing field in the region, the SABC reported.
In the report, the SABC states the two countries instituted import restrictions on selected agronomic and horticultural crops to develop their crop industries.
“This is despite the two countries and South Africa being in a customs union, along with Lesotho and Swaziland, which fosters free trade in the Southern African region,” the SABC reported.
South African agricultural producers are feeling the brunt as they are unable to export selected crops, including tomatoes and potatoes, to Namibia and Botswana.
And this comes at a time when production costs are soaring.
Marketing Manager for vegetables farming Clive Garrett says every single agricultural producer in the country is under tremendous strain with increases in electricity costs, increases in transport costs and increases in fertilizer costs.
“The minimum wage in Botswana is R5 an hour against your 23 odd rand an hour in South Africa. The minimum wage in Namibia is actually zero, there is a collective bargaining agreement. We actually are competing on an unfair playing field. At one stage in the year this year, Namibian producers had 13% of their products in South Africa,” says Garrett.
Christo van der Rheede who is the Executive Director of Agri SA has called this a travesty of free trade.
“So hopefully sanity will prevail and that both Namibia and the Botswana governments will open their borders because we need to allow free trade,” he said.
In a written statement to the SABC, the Namibian Agronomic Board says they currently import almost 100% of farming inputs from South Africa. This has a production cost advantage of almost 25% compared to Namibian farmers due to high input costs in Namibia.
According to the Board, import restrictions were put in place to protect their local farmers from cheap imports and to stimulate economic growth and self-sufficiency.
Back in South Africa, the National Agricultural Marketing Council says some headway has been made with its Namibian counterparts to satisfy all stakeholders.
Dr Sifiso Ntombela, an economist at the council, says they requested a priority list of about 18 commodities they control.
“One of the things that we have agreed on is that they must be able to give us a priority list of about 18 commodities that they control and give us a window where they have done their analysis as an early warning so that we can be able to give an adjustment time to our South African counterparts. But over and above that let there be stronger cooperation in terms of investment so that in commodities that they believe they have the capacity how could we create a space for our South African farmers and Agri businesses and investors.”
He adds: “What we are seeing is not only the displacement of South Africa at the shelf space in these countries, it is also the displacement of South African products in terms of supplying the seeds, in terms of supplying the fertilizers, in terms of supplying the advisory and we have all that capacity’. Officials in Botswana were approached for comment but are yet to respond.