Botswana suspected of fresh produce protectionism

Members of South Africa’s fresh produce production and marketing industry have expressed suspicion that Botswana is unfairly protecting its fresh produce farmers in contravention of the arrangements of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) free trade area.

tomato-crop

This emerged after Botswana recently closed its borders to imports of a variety of fresh produce types, particularly from South Africa, its largest supplier.

According to media reports, this was to allow Botswana time to deal with an outbreak of tomato leaf miner (TLM) discovered in that country.

However, two well-placed sources in South Africa’s fresh produce production and marketing industry, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic, told Farmer’s Weekly that they suspected Botswana of using the TLM outbreak as a smokescreen to protect that country’s fresh produce growers from competition from other countries.

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A director of a SA fresh produce company said it was not the first time that Botswana had closed its borders to fresh produce imports.

“It does it to protect its own fresh produce farmers, but this is limiting the free trade allowed within SADC. Botswana has had Tuta absoluta [TLM] for many years. It’s not a new problem for them, so why is it being used now as an excuse to stop fresh produce imports?” the source said.

Another director of a SA fresh produce marketing company expressed similar views.

“It seems that as soon as Botswana’s own fresh produce becomes available for market, then it closes its borders to competition from other SADC countries. This has been going on for years. Botswana should be adhering to SADC’s free-trade arrangement.”

South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries told Farmer’s Weekly that it had not received any official notification from the Botswana government regarding its border closure to imports of tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, melon pears, beetroots and other produce.

Farmer’s Weekly’s attempts to obtain comment from the Botswana government on the subject were unsuccessful at the time of publication.