By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
03 April 2014
The immediate cancellation of food import permits have sparked fears of a looming shortage of fruit and vegetables, with no clarification yet of when imported fresh produce will be allowed back on shelves.
Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said in a statement this week that all current fruit and vegetable import and export permits, previously issued by the ministry, had been recalled with immediate effect. This followed a Government directive on Monday that there was a need to revise the rules and regulations governing the importation and exportation of agricultural produce.
The move means that all fresh produce brought into the country will not be permitted, until new import permits are issued. It is not yet clear who will now be given the permits and when. But in the short term it means grocery stores and other shops who sell imported goods will soon run short of stock.
The effect of the directive is likely to be far reaching, with Zimbabweans mostly reliant on imported fresh produce because of the destruction of the domestic agricultural sector. The import of fresh fruit and vegetables from South Africa, for example, is said to be worth an estimated $1 million a month.
At the same time, some commercial farming groups in Zimbabwe remain afloat because of international exports of their produce, with large supermarkets chains and others still sourcing Zim fruit and vegetables.
Economic analyst Masimba Kuchera said the directive has likely been motivated by pressure from local producers, who have argued that imports are killing the local markets.
“The idea is good, but the timing is really bad. This may induce a food shortage because the directive is coming with immediate effect. Local farmers are likely not prepared to chip in with the required food tonnage of produce for the markets,” Kuchera told SW Radio Africa.
He added: “So we may have a ripple affect with price increases in the short term, because we will have fewer goods with a lot of demand.”
Kuchera also warned that the impact on the export market will be serious, because Zimbabwe’s economy is still in desperate need of foreign currency.
“From an export perspective this is shooting yourself in the foot, because some of the foreign currency in the market is generated from this sector. So this (the directive) reduces the country’s ability to earn foreign currency which is required at the moment,” Kuchera explained.
He added that corruption, which has been rampant in different Zimbabwean sectors, is a source of concern moving forward, with the import/export industry worth millions of dollars.
“Corruption is something we have to be worried about generally, because it has pervaded every nook and cranny of Zimbabwean transaction. Clearly we have a situation where there is a culture of doing business where kickbacks and bribes are the order of the day,” Kuchera warned.