A week after reports emerged indicating that members of South Africa’s fresh produce production and marketing industry are accusing Botswana of fresh produce protectionism, the country has resolved to lift the ban which has been running since last year. Botswana closed its borders to imports of a variety of fresh produce types – according to the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security – to allow Botswana time to deal with an outbreak of tomato leaf miner (TLM) which was discovered in the country. “The Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security wishes to inform farmers and the general public that the ban on importation of potato, tomato, pepper and eggplant (including seedlings) due to Tomato leaf miner (Tuta absoluta) has been lifted with immediate effect,” read a press release from the Ministry this week. Reports emerged in the South African media last week stating that members of South Africa’s fresh produce production and marketing industry suspected that Botswana was unfairly protecting its fresh produce farmers in contravention of the arrangements of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) free trade area. Their bone of contention was Botswana was highly likely to be using the TLM outbreak as a smokescreen to protect its fresh produce growers from competition from other countries. “It seems that as soon as Botswana’s own fresh produce becomes available for market, then it closes its borders to competition from other SADC countries. This has been going on for years. Botswana should be adhering to SADC’s free-trade arrangement,” a director of a SA fresh produce company was quoted by the media. “It does it to protect its own fresh produce farmers, but this is limiting the free trade allowed within SADC. Botswana has had Tuta absoluta [TLM] for many years. It’s not a new problem for them, so why is it being used now as an excuse to stop fresh produce imports?” the source said.
Another director of a SA fresh produce marketing company was quoted expressing similar views. An official from the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security has however refuted allegations made by the South African farmers. According to the official, contrary to claims that Botswana has had other TLM outbreaks before, this was the first recorded outbreak in a long time. The official dismissed as baseless reports that Botswana had intentionally imposed the ban to protect local fresh produce from competition posed by the South African market, saying the ban did not only apply to South Africa but to all fresh produce imports. “Why then would the ban also apply to propagating materials (seedlings) if the motive was to protect the local fresh produce,” the official remarked. According to the official, the ban has been lifted following a scientific justification after realising that the pest is not confined to just one area but had spread countrywide which has now moved it from being a plant quarantine pest to being a regulated non-quarantine pest. As a measure of redress and a way of guarding against further spread of the pest local farmers are advised to have their farms inspected by agricultural agents prior to importation of seedlings. The Ministry also advises farmers to Import seedlings only from pest free areas, follow proper phytosanitary protocols when importing seedlings and fresh produce, ensure field sanitation through collection and destruction of infested fruits and plants, bury infested fruits and plants no less than one metre deep, practice crop rotation with non-host crops, cultivate the field to expose the pupae, mass trap adult moths in and outside farms using water baited lures and pheromone traps and use insecticides recommended by the Ministry. It is also important to note that though the ban has been lifted, only fresh produce sourced from export markets will be allowed into the country.