Govt engages SA to lift banana ban

Govt engages SA  to lift banana ban

South Africa is Zimbabwe’s biggest banana market. Picture: LINDA NYLIND.

THE Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation has reportedly engaged the South African government to lift its ban on imports of Zimbabwean bananas. South Africa, which is Zimbabwe’s biggest market, issued the ban in 2012 after cases of bacterial diseases on local bananas.

SA imports are controlled and administered by the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC), a legislative body that governs customs tariff investigations, trade remedies, import and export control. The Ministry of Agriculture is said to have responded to intense lobbying from banana producing company Matanuska, a unit of agricultural conglomerate Rift Valley Corporation.

Matanuska has been appealing to government to engage SA to reverse its ban since it was the country’s biggest market. The banana producer indicated that the ban had left the country with an oversupply of bananas.  Minister of Agriculture, Joseph Made, could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone was unreachable.

However, a source within the ministry confirmed the development. “There have been several appeals made by banana producers in the country that have been lobbying the ministry to engage South Africa to reverse its ban on Zimbabwean bananas and the ministry has taken heed of the calls,” said the source.

Matanuska finance director, Richard Chiwandire, said local bananas have since been cleared of bacterial diseases. Chiwandire said they are currently exporting to Zambia where no such cases had been reported.  “As you are aware, we are exporting to Zambia, which is however, a small market. But it is important to note that no such bacterial cases have been cited ever since. We have also done our tests and can safely say our bananas are okay. What is left is for South Africa to lift its ban.”

“What we have done is to appeal to the government through the Ministry of Agriculture to engage the South African government to open up its market,” said Chiwandire.

“The embargo has greatly affected our sales here because we have an oversupply of bananas locally. Currently as Matanuska we are producing 9 000 tonnes, we have also engaged small holder farmers who are producing an additional 7 000 tonnes. There is an oversupply for the local market already. Though we are exporting some of our bananas to Zambia, their market is too small and things can only improve once South Africa opens up its market,” said Chiwandire.

The two year-long ban had frustrated the industry’s plans to grow output to 35,000 tonnes per year, up from the current 16 000 tonnes. The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) national vice president, Henry Nemaire, said Matanuska was aiming to scale up annual banana production by partnering small holder farmers.

“Matanuska is set to transform the banana industry. They have partnered small holder farmers and the partnerships have capacity to boost the annual production up to 35 000 tonnes,” said Nemaire.

Matanuska has entered into partnership with 350 farmers in Chibuwe, Chipinge and Honde Valley under Banana Development Groups. Matanuska is currently producing 9 000 tonnes while 7 000 tonnes is coming from small holder farmers. – Kenneth Matimaire

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