Because of their historical ties to certain European countries, Caribbean producers enjoyed preferential tariffs when exporting bananas into what would become the EU.
Their dominance of the fresh produce sector growing, the supermarkets cried foul, and demanded that the tariffs be repealed to level the playing field for everyone. The resulting Banana War raged, with each fiercely defending its position, until the tariffs were lifted a few years ago.
Fast forward to today and an article in FreshPlaza.com headlined: ‘Zimbabwe is sitting on a banana gold mine’. Apparently, a survey has revealed that vast banana fields have not been fully utilised, and the article states that measures are underway to scale up production. It notes that in the eastern border region alone, Zimbabwe has more than 3 000ha of land suitable for banana production.
I recently extolled the quality of bananas I had seen in Harare and have written on the impact that bananas from Mozambique have had on production of the fruit in South Africa.
Some South African farmers, whose farms were sold to the state and redistributed to land claimants, merely crossed the border and resumed production over there, with the eager support of Mozambique’s government. And the quality is as good as, if not better, than the best in South Africa. All of this is causing unhappiness among SA growers. Some say that our government should place some form of restriction on imported bananas.
Do I hear echoes of years gone by when bananas were controlled? Those who favour such an action forget we live in an era where SADC politicians are trying to bring down trade barriers in the region, not put them up! With South Africa as the economic powerhouse of the region, most of the SADC member countries need to market their products in this country.
If the local banana scene continues as at present and people call for measures to restrict imports, we should not be surprised if we end up with our own version of the Banana Wars!