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Baitshepi Sekgweng
IN DEMAND: Potatoes

The restriction on the importation of vegetables has led to a significant reduction of the vegetables importation bill as according to the available statistics.

The country’s vegetables import bill has decreased from P375.6 million in 2021 to P176.9 million in 2022, further augmenting government’s efforts to support local farmers and foster agricultural independence. Despite that, the restriction has its own darker side with the country currently hit by shortage if not absence of potatoes.

At the beginning of this year there were few quantities in the market, but the supply has since depleted, leaving small scale traders to bear the brunt of government’s trade policy.

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While local production has slightly increased and farmers who have signed up their produce to large chain stores making positive strides to take advantage of the ban, the immediate challenge is that locals are not yet advanced enough to grow potatoes year all round.

Potatoes are a winter crop and get scarce in summer such that many farmers shy away from growing the crop due to issues of pests and diseases being dominant during the hot season.

According to Botswana Informal Sector Association(BOISA) Executive Secretary, Thamsanqa Metsing, the situation is so dire that many businesses which depend on potatoes have collapsed.

“It is a very heart breaking situation because government always take decisions without consulting us. Most traders in Lobatse and Borolong areas used to buy from Zeerust and were benefiting due to the low Rand rates. Now they have to go as far as Ghanzi and Tuli Block which is quite expensive because it involves queuing up there for many days,” he said.

According to Metsing it is pity now that the smuggling of potatoes into the country is becoming another challenge as people seek to alleviate the current situation. “Something could have been done with regards to backup plans and doing impact assessment when this restriction was imposed but they don’t engage us, and we don’t know what to do now. So at this point in time they could be becoming flexible and temporarily open borders for imports because this used to happen in the past. Businesses are vulnerable and have collapsed since local producers are yet to meet the national demand,” lamented Metsing.

According to Botswana Horticulture Council(BoHoCo) Chairman, Mogomotsi Moatswi, the only way to maintain consistent supply is through collection centers.

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“We need to collect and store produce and be able to distribute it gradually throughout the year, that’s how it’s done even in other countries. Further, farmers should be assisted in research to look at geographical locations and pinpoint areas where we can produce this potatoes and other vegetables during off season periods. The seriousness of this restriction should have been seen this year. We need to produce and work on closing gaps every year. If we import it is very high risk because of pests and diseases, so collection centers are a means to control pests and diseases and gradually release products into the market,” said Moatswi further urging farmers to take advantage of the ban and form clusters to produce and exhaust the potential and wealth the sector carries.

Botswana import potato tubers and fertilizers- something which raises up production costs. According to statistics from Ministry of Agriculture(MoA) potato production stood at 24 718.07 tonnes during 2021/2022 season from 1 032.07 hectares planted. During the 2022/23 season, potato production stands at 32 569.42 tonnes from 1262.3 hectares planted. However, potato supply in the market is expected to slightly improve with harvest anticipated from Ghanzi and Tuli Block areas in two weeks time.

According to Chief Public Relations Officer at MoA, Moreri Moesi, the ministry has introduced programmes such as Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan and Impact Accelerator Subsidy to enable protected cultivation and increase the number of producers and ultimately close the production gap. “Even though the production does not meet national demand there is gradual growth in production. Currently there is a shortage of potatoes due to seasonality,” he said.

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