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Vote of confidence

Baitshepi Sekgweng

Extended veggie ban hailed as right move

Vegetables are officially off the import menu for another two years after Government saw fit to extend ‘the veggie ban’ until the end of 2025.

Botswana Horticulture Council (BoHoCo) hailed the decision as an important step in the right direction towards supporting local farmers.

At the start of 2022, govt put a stop to 19 fruits and vegetables coming into the country, with the hope that homegrown foods would fill the gap.

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The restricted crops included favourites such as: potatoes, tomatoes carrots, beetroots, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, garlic and onions.

After a shaky start, especially in regard to potatoes, which were in short supply to begin with, BW farmers rose to the challenge. The fresh produce import bill also benefited greatly, trimmed from P634 million in 2018 to P182 million this year.

Initially scheduled to run for two years, the ban has now been doubled, with 10 new additions added to the forbidden list, including: mushrooms, sweet corn, sweet potato and okra.

The restriction on these will not come into force until 1 July 2024, giving local producers ‘a grace period’ to get their farms in order.

Speaking to Voice Money, BoHoCo Chairman, Mogomotsi Moatswi labelled the decision ‘a noble gesture’.

“We thank the government for this because it shows a vote of confidence in us for feeding the nation in the past two years and going towards achieving food sufficiency and security. However, it is important that we have dialogue to see where we can improve as farmers such that everyone can benefit. It’s not only about restrictions, they are processes so we have to gauge if we are seeing growth with farmers and if there is enthusiasm from new farmers to join horticulture,” said Moatswi.

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As for the updated veggie ban, the Chair is confident his comrades will come to the table.

“The additional products are easy to produce so it is a very good initiative more so that they are also of high value for small producers. Government has done enough to facilitate us to produce, the only problem is the market; therefore collection points are a necessary evil.”

Moatswi called on the country’s leading supermarkets to follow government’s example and give ‘the small man’ a break.

“While the ban is a welcome development, initially big supermarkets were getting produce outside at a cheaper cost and selling at a competitive price. In the meantime some are producing for themselves and there is no regulation and standardization which means we can’t control low quality produce if it ends up in the market. So in the absence of proper regulation blame goes to small scale farmers; meanwhile the poor are getting poorer while those who are stronger get richer. As small scale farmers we don’t have money for compliance structures – government should lead in that aspect,” maintained Moatswi.

Meanwhile, Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) recently graduated 13 farmers from the Glen Valley Horticulture Incubator in a ceremony held at Pure Nature Farm in Kgope.

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Deliberating at the graduation LEA Digital Officer, Onkabetse Moatlhodi urged financial institutions and lenders to be patient when funding horticultural farmers.

“LEA’s mandate consists of mentoring and coaching while also supporting value chain development and pushing for the erection of processing centers that will help farmers not lose their produce. The ban on fresh produce is not a setback but a call to all to come together and build a stronger and more resilient horticultural industry,” said Moatlhodi.

To date, the Glen Valley Horticulture Incubator has trained over 262 farmers with 40 percent of them already hands-on while 60 percent are yet to start producing.

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