Fruit and vegetable production with the neighbours

A few years ago, I wrote about the development of fruit and vegetable production in our neighbouring countries – specifically Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

More recently, a letter from a reader (Farmer’s Weekly, 11 April 2014) put forward a case for Namibia becoming self-sufficient in food production. Having done some consulting work in that country, I agree with the writer. It won’t happen overnight, but two out of four proposed markets have already been built in a relatively short time. If they work, they will be a boon for local producers and consumers. They will also affect South Africa’s exports to Namibia, but not in any significant way.

Zimbabwe
As many know, Zimbabwe recently banned all fresh produce imports from South Africa, pending the return of old import permits so that new ones could be issued. My cynical side wonders about allegations I’ve heard that Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace has taken over the country’s leading fresh produce importing company…

It was depressing to hear about Dr Ranga Mano of the African University in Mutare pontificating that “local farmers will have to pull up their socks” when those same farmers are toiling in one of the weakest economies in the world.
We know from its past that Zimbabwe has the potential to produce all of its own food and more, but with agricultural output having declined by more than 60% since 2000, it will be an uphill battle.

More hope in Mozambique
Mozambique, meanwhile, has fast become a major supplier of bananas to South Africa, and it seems that this trend will continue as its production increases. The country has excellent agricultural potential and as long as it can produce crops cheaper than we can, it will have a market in this country. I believe we can expect more than just bananas from Mozambique in the not-too-distant future.

When I think back to my original column, it’s clear that things have moved forward – except perhaps for Zimbabwe. At the time, I said it would be a long process, and so it is. But it is taking place and will no doubt accelerate as things improve for our neighbours. We must expect changes as they seek to supply the lucrative South African market. Add talk of a ‘Common Market’ in Southern Africa and we could be in for some interesting times.