Despite being a signatory of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, which calls for the free flow of goods and services, Botswana announced an import ban on 16 vegetables in December 2021, effective 1 January 2022. According to Botswana’s minister for agriculture, the import ban is necessary to support farmers in Botswana and foster agricultural independence. The Minister of Agriculture said Botswana’s USD 770 million yearly expense on food imports was a major national concern and that the country needed policies that would increase self-sufficiency, and protect and support local farmers. The ban includes tomatoes, carrots, beetroots, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, chili peppers, butternut, watermelons, sweet peppers, green corn, and fresh herbs. The ban will be reviewed every two years but only to add additional items to the list of banned vegetables.
To ensure an adequate and consistent supply of vegetables from local farmers to meet the national demand for the vegetables, the government of Botswana has initiated subsidies for vegetable farmers. The subsidies are intended to fund programmes to mitigate adverse weather effects, increase vegetable production, and ensure good agricultural practices in vegetable farming. Farmers and industry experts are confident that the local vegetable industry can meet the national demand for vegetables and greatly benefit from the ban. However, it is vitally important that farmers comply with good agricultural practices and hygiene standards to ensure high-quality vegetables arrive at the market. However, the ban could increase cross-border smuggling of vegetables, especially from South Africa, because Botswana borders are porous.
Botswana imports most of its vegetables from South Africa, with 98.2% of vegetable imports originating from South Africa over the past five years. Botswana imported 57,558 tons of vegetables worth USD 33.8 million from South Africa in 2021. Botswana is South Africa’s second-largest vegetable export destination after Mozambique, accounting for 15.1% of the USD 224.4 million worth of vegetables exported in 2021. Therefore, South Africa will be the most severely affected by the Botswana import ban in 2022 and beyond. Potatoes, onions, and tomatoes are three major vegetable exports from South Africa to Botswana and will see the most significant impact. Botswana is the main export market for South African tomatoes and appears to be the hardest hit by the export ban. Tomato volumes on the South African market were 32% higher in W3 May-2022 YoY, which resulted in a price decrease of 38% YoY with tomatoes trading at USD 0.38/kg. Further price decreases in tomato prices are expected as low demand coupled with high volumes are forecast for the coming weeks. It appears that the import ban is contributing to an oversupply of tomatoes in the South African market which is causing prices to plummet.
South Africa exports the majority of its vegetables to neighboring countries in Southern Africa such as Botswana, Mozambique, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe with market share well diversified across different countries. Thus, South Africa has access to alternative, geographically convenient markets for the vegetables that cannot be exported to Botswana. Alternatively, South African producers can elect to plant less in the short term until they can establish alternative markets to compensate for the loss of exports to Botswana.