Farmers in the Tuli Block area have queried ┬áthat the decision by Government to close and open borders for imports from neighbouring South Africa and other foreign countries, based on the availability of horticulture produce┬á locally, does not benefit them.
They argued that the timing of the closures do not seem to be considerate of the actual situation as it obtained on the ground.
Johannes Schoeman, Managing Director of┬á AR5 Pty Ltd, a company engaged in horticulture production in Tuli Block since 1997, said that the notion of citizen empowerment cannot be attained for as long as the present arrangement opening and closing ┬áborders does not ┬átake cognizance of specific circumstances of the local farmers and their market pattern.
“The reality of the situation is that out of the ┬¥ of total local horticulture produce, only 50 percent is sellable due to challenges related to the border closure. As far as things stand, there is no connection between the timing of the closures and the cropping plan, nor do we see any deliberate effort at motivating the local producers to maintain their high in production,” posited Schoeman.
Schoeman pointed out that to show the lack of consistency in the monitoring of movement of goods at the border, there is nothing in place to ensure that when the particular border gates are open, the products brought in do not pass to those entry points which would be closed.
Moreover, those farmers who choose to stockpile at the time when the borders are temporarily open find unrestricted latitude to contest and beat local producers with their foreign obtained goods at very low prices, ultimately de-motivating citizen producers who incidentally have to repay loans with the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA).
To make matters worse, Schoeman lamented that he cannot export his oranges to nearest border areas in South Africa for the simple reason that he was required to produce a phyto-sanitary certificate, while his counterparts from that country are not affected by the phyto-sanitary conditions.
This has led to criticism of Government’s conception of citizen empowerment as falling far short of the ideals espoused by Government.
To highlight the seriousness of the problem, another farmer, Gaotlhobogwe Radikwata, who was financed under the Young Farmers Fund expressed fear that although she only just started harvesting the first produce in February this year, the reality of the adversity of “uncalculated” closures of the border has begun to threaten her.
Notwithstanding all these queries, there is also the ongoing preparation for regional integration and free movement of goods throughout the countries of the region, under the auspices of the Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPAs).
Against that background, it has been argued that the pumping out of funds in the name of citizen empowerment without lifting up locals to the competitive edge by promulgating laws that protect local farmers, including Young farmers, yet on the one hand considering EPAs makes the whole idea of citizen empowerment a futile exercise.
“Fortunately, there wasn’t much to lose, as we only just ┬ástarted when the border opened and nobody had asked to determine whether ┬áour produce would be sufficient┬á to warrant letting in foreign goods of the same type we had in our store,” said Radikwata.
In response, Kenneth Makubate, Support Manager, Agri-Business at CEDA has said, “CEDA aims to support more agriculture projects throughout the country with a view to ultimately creating a strong case for Government closing borders.”
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what the authorities plan to do to ensure there is reasonable correspondence between the level of production and the amount of money given out in loans by the financial institutions, as well as the sustainability of the agriculture sector as an alternate source of revenue for the country.