Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Vegetables ban: Informal traders find it hard to source fresh produce

The Government’s recent decision to impose ban on vegetables has left some informal traders in the country ‘stranded’ with nothing to sell.

An informal trader in Gaborone Lesego Khumoetsile says selling vegetables has proven to be difficult as she is unable to source produce from Limpopo, South Africa where she normally buys from.

She adds that now that government has banned the importation of horticulture produce she finds her business struggling to have stock due to local farmer’s preference to supply retailers only.

“I am struggling to buy local produce from our local farmers because they flatly refuse based on an order coming from retailers that they should not sell to us because we are competition more so that we sell at a cheaper price,” says Khumoetsile.

She adds, “This is going to collapse the informal sector because in some instances we tend to go directly to farms to source second grade produce which have a short lifespan,” says Khumoetsile.

Another informal trader Kesego Raletsatsi said it has been two months without the most sought after produce such as potatoes and green peppers in her stock.

Raletsatsi pleaded with government to at least open borders given that local farmers are still struggling to meet the demand.

“It is difficult for us at this point because it seems as though government has turned a blind eye to our concerns even against evidence that both retailers and the informal traders are finding it difficult to survive the import ban,”

“Some of the retailers were charged for smuggling horticulture produce recently and that should ring an alarm that indeed we are headed for the worst as the informal traders,” added Raletsatsi.

Coincidentally Member of Parliament for Francistown West Mokwaledi Moswaane put a motion on Friday asking government if it’s aware that the ban of importation of fruits and vegetables into Botswana is being used by large chain stores to monopolize and drive the informal sector and out of business.

In response the Assistant Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security Molebatsi Molebatsi said although government has not restricted the importation of fruits there is no evidence that large retailers monopolize the informal sector and out of business.

He said bringing the act on the importation of horticulture produce was government’s intention to grow the local sector adding that locals are still lagging behind due to the importation of some produce which can be produced locally.

“Government does not regulate how farmers sell their produce, it is an agreement between farmers and the buyers but then again there is no evidence to suggest there is unfair trading in the selling of horticulture produce,”

“I recently brought together retailers, informal traders and farmers to discuss a way forward and farmers stated that they need informal traders because they buy their produce with cash,” said Molebatsi.

The growing demand for horticulture products in the country has seen retailers and informal traders scrambling for local produce. This is not the first time that the government imposes a trade restriction. In 2019, the 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.”

Government has previously indicated that the ban on imports is meant to protect Botswana farmers from cheap produce mostly from neighbouring South Africa

Horticultural produce in Botswana only meets approximately 40 percent of the national demand, creating a 60 percent supply deficit as a result. The supply gap and sluggish growth of the sector is attributed to the shortness of the growing season and erratic weather conditions in Botswana, which have been aggravated by the rising climate change in the country and the region.

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