Govt temporarily bans fresh produce imports

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Bereng Mpaki

THE Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing has temporarily banned the importation of selected fresh agricultural products to preserve their market for local producers.

Tomatoes, green beans and peppers have all been banned starting on 1 February 2021. The ban will only be lifted on 28 February.

Tankiso Phapano, the principal secretary (PS) in the ministry this week told the Lesotho Times that the move would allow local producers to sell off their produce without having to compete 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 has not set any price control measures on the banned products but instead trusts that the producers will continue charging fair markets prices.

He said the ministry was hoping to open the first fresh market centre in Leribe by the end of February as part of the government’s efforts to secure a market for local producers.

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.”

Lesotho National Farmers Union (LENAFU) spokesperson, Khotso Lepheana welcomed the government’s move but called for better planning ahead of its implementation.

“While this is a good move, it would have been better for the ministry to engage the farmers prior to implementing it. That way, famers would have been better prepared to service the market and not be caught by surprise,” Mr Lepheana said.

The “impromptu” nature of the government’s decision could cause a supply gap of the products in the market with consumers failing to locate the local distribution channels.

“We encourage the government to involve the producers early not to only engage them at the last stage. This will make it easier for farmers to organise themselves ahead of market opening. It also helps the farmers to be in a better position to know the sizes and quantities to produce for the market and not be disappointed and they get to the market when they are told their products are not of the required specifications,” Mr Lepheana said.

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