Players in the agricultural sector have received with mixed reactions, the move by the Government to suspend importation of all existing imports on the local markets.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made recently said there was need to revise the rules and regulations to be followed when importing agricultural produce as he announced the immediate suspension of the permits.
Farmers have complained that cheap imported produce – mainly from South Africa – are flooding the local market and negatively affecting their operations.
But some analysts believe that the cancellation of the import permits could trigger massive price hikes since the cost of production in Zimbabwe is higher than in South Africa and thus local products cost more on the market.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa said: “The country is importing eggs, vegetables, fruits and poultry products leaving us with nowhere to sell our produce. Some countries are dumping their produce on us and we end up losing our markets.
“As farmers, our Government should give us protection on food we produce here. Some countries subsidise their farmers and give them export incentives which make their produce cheaper compared to local produce, “said Mr Chabhikwa.
Mr Chabikwa said they were unable to compete with subsidised farmers.
“We welcome the move as this protects us to remain productive,” he said.
Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union second vice-president Mr Berean Mukwende said he hoped security would be tightened at the borders to stamp out smuggling.
He said the cancellation of import permits should serve as a challenge to local farmers to produce quality foodstuffs.
“It’s a step in the right direction and it goes in line with Zim-Asset,” said Mr Mukwende. “We should not look only on the financial aspect but various others, such as employment creation.”
Agricultural economist Mr Midway Bhunu said this would protect local farmers against cheap imports.
“Government will save the balance of payment by reducing value of imports,” he said.
Last week Cde Made issued a statement that all import permits had been cancelled.
“This is pending the return of the old permits to the ministry so that new ones have to be issued. The ministry will follow certain rules and regulations that have to be observed by the licence holders.”
Dr Made did not disclose when new permits would be issued.
Some farmers said Government should first establish the local production deficit so that import licenses would only be issued for produce that was not readily available locally.
Other experts said while it was important to support local farmers by availing markets, this could be better achieved by reducing, not banning imports.
In August 2013, the horticulture industry called for higher import tariffs to avert the collapse of the local industry.
Three years earlier, the Agriculture Marketing Authority imposed a ban on South African potato imports because local producers were failing to compete with their prices.