Botswana implemented a long-term ban on imports of 16 vegetable commodities and doesn’t plan to stop it.
In December 2021, the ministry of Agricultural development and food security issued a long term restriction on the importation of some vegetable commodities.
The decision was made as part of the goal to “achieve prosperity for all,” and as such support its farmers, the horticultural sector, and build agricultural independence by forbidding imports of vegetables.
Since January 1st, tomatoes, carrots, beetroots, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, chilli peppers, butternut, watermelons, sweet peppers, green mealies (sweet corn) and fresh herbs are banned from being imported in Botswana.
The decision is expected to boost local production rather than buying them abroad, mostly from South Africa. The four major crops in Botswana are sorghum, maize, millet and beans/pulses.
The ban is going to be reviewed only every two years and Botswana Agriculture Minister Fidelis Molao said the import ban is “here to stay” during a conference with actors of the tourism and hospitality industry, Mmegi reported on May 16.
He even added that there may be more vegetables to be banned from importation in the future.
With the introduction of the restriction, there have been accounts of local shortages and escalating prices. Moreover, consumers don’t necessarily consider available vegetables are qualitative now. And demand for other produces seems to remain high as people regularly get caught smuggling vegetables. More modern, South Africa’s agriculture produces cheaper food. Moreover, a border closure policy may have limited benefits.
For the minister, there is no comeback possible since “farmers have already sown the seeds of plants for the new market. We have the land, we have the ability but we don’t have the market, the farmers say,” Mr. Molao argues.
Botswana has actually been applying import bans on food for several years.
In 2019, Botswana already implemented temporary import bans on tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, beetroot and green peppers.
But farmers for several years wanted more and advocated for a permanent ban on vegetable imports, arguing they had the capability to meet Botswana’s demand as potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots or beetroots, would easily grow on Botswana soils, according to them. However, they were reluctant to invest in new crops because they had no guarantee retailers would buy their produce.
A permanent ban is however difficult to implement as it would violate trade agreements between Botswana and Southern African Development Community countries, according to the ministry of Agriculture.