THE MINISTRY of Agriculture, Marketing and Food Security has lifted the ban on vegetables imports.
Imposed in February this year, the ban was meant to preserve the market for local producers who have often been forced to compete with imported goods.
The February ban was imposed by the Small Business Development and Cooperatives Ministry.
Among the products that were preserved for local producers are tomatoes, green beans and peppers. The ban was meant to have been lifted 28 February but the process was delayed as the local farmers could still service the market.
At the time of the ban, the then principal secretary (PS) in the Small Business Development ministry, Tankiso Phapano, told the Lesotho Times that the move was meant to allow local producers to sell their produce without competing with imports.
“This is a conscious decision taken by the government to support local producers,” Mr Phapano said.
“We are aware of many farmers who have set up greenhouses around the country to produce these products. The data that we have collected indicates that there is enough supply of these products in the market for now.”
Mr Phapano said the ministry did not set any price controls on the banned products but instead trusted that the producers would continue charging fair market prices.
Mr Phapano communicated the decision in a 30 January 2021 memo to the Commissioner of Customs and Excise in the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).
“Commercial agriculture has been identified as one of the significant sectors within the second phase of the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP II) in the agriculture and rural development chapter. The Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing is one of the crucial implementing ministries that facilitates agricultural commercialisation.
“Through the department of marketing, the ministry is among other things, tasked with developing markets for smallholders engaged in agricultural enterprises and linking local producers with buyers.
“Pending the availability of horticultural commodities produced by local agricultural entrees, the department of marketing is advised to restrict importation of tomatoes, green beans and peppers to facilitate market access for the selected fresh produce.”
However, Agriculture minister Tefo Mapesela has now lifted the ban to arrest a spike in prices.
Mr Mapesela told the Lesotho Times this week said while it was noble to preserve the market for local producers of some vegetables, the local farmers were now struggling to cope with the demand. The demand was driving up prices with the price of a box of tomatoes rising from an average of M80 to M160.
“We were now witnessing a high demand in the banned products and that was driving the price upwards,” Mr Mapesela said.
He therefore said agribusinesses were now free to import the previously banned fresh produce.