Effects of frequent onion, potato import bans on economic growth
Published On March 9, 2022 » 3086 Views» By Times Reporter » Business, Columns
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THE Zambian government three weeks ago, yet again, imposed a ban on the importation of onions and potatoes into the country.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Green Mbozi who made the announcement on February 21, said the Government had decided to suspend the importation of onions and potatoes until further notice following a meeting held with the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU).
He said that the desire of the Government was to ensure that the interest of local farmers is protected.
Hardly a fortnight ago, ZNFU president Jervis Zimba, also expressed similar concerns over the flooding of imported onions and potatoes on the market, saying the trend was killing local farmers
The ZNFU leader further questioned the rationale behind the importation of the two commodities that can be produced locally and are currently in abundance.
Additionally, he noted that onions and potatoes produced by local farmers risk going to waste unless the Government addresses the issue of the continued importation of the commodities.
Other stakeholders too, have raised concerns over the Government’s decision to allow the importation of some commodities that could be grown locally and are demanding a clear policy decision.
For this discourse, is it healthy for a nation to go through back-and forth policy decisions?
What is the underlying cause?
What is the once and for all solution to this ‘merry-go-round’?
The purpose of this article is to delve into the frequent back and forth perennial agriculture policy decisions.
Think of it, as way back as May 12, 2014, World Bank Country Manager, Khundavi Kadiresani, referring to maize export bans, advised Zambia to ensure stability and continuity in its agricultural policies.
“If you are really talking about Zambia becoming a supplier of maize for the entire sub-region, then you also need to provide stability and consistency in the policies,” she said.
We have seen bumper harvest time and again in this country, in the last five to seven years
Again, Zambia instead of talking about year to year harvest must think of it in a most strategic way.
We cannot talk about becoming a grain reserve of this whole region if we don’t have the right policy.
“You cannot just ban exports this month and the next month you remove the ban”, Ms. Kadiresani said.
That was eight years ago, but this message is still relevant to Zambia and the onion, and potato perennial ban year in year out!
Indeed, Ms. Kadiresan’s sentiments could be extrapolated eight years later on the prevailing back and forth onion and potato import bans.
When the Government imposed a similar ban on the importation of onions and potatoes in the country last year interestingly, the ban lasted hardly a month and was reversed following the subsequent shortage of onions and Irish potatoes on the country.
This was because the ban further culminated into drastic rise in the prices of the above products which further saw an outcry from consumers which further caused the Government to lift the ban to curb the rising cost of living.
Shortly, within this period, I drove to the ZNFU national offices to find out why the nation has been going through annual merry-go-rounds, back and forth policy changes in the agricultural sector.
Is it a pleasant thing to see a national Government going back and forth reversing a policy that it made barely a month after its implementation?
When I talked to ZNFU last year, an official that I was assigned to, to attend to my press query told me that the policy reversal was due to non-availability or inadequate numbers of industrial dryers in the country.
This ZNFU Official further told me that these industrial dryers were only available abroad at an enormous cost!
This time around, this official told me that local traders have been ordering large quantities of Irish potatoes and onions on credit, transporting the commodities to Zambia, selling them for cash and returning the borrowed funds to their South African suppliers at the expense of locally grown products.
I went back to the same official to ask him whether local farmers had this time around acquired sufficient numbers, if any, of industrial dryers to enable local small and larger scale farmers store sufficient numbers of onions to curb a looming shortage and escalating product prices.
Of course, this will be a subject of further discussion in the next article
I further looked at concerns from other stakeholders who noted that ordinarily, many local farmers are seasonal growers and not all-year-round farmers, in the season of plenty, who, once they have grown large quantities of onions and potatoes, advocate for a ban on importation of onions, tomatoes and potatoes, and as soon as the season is over, a shortage and price hike kick in and again lift the importation ban.
In February last year, the Government banned the importation of onions and tomatoes but the ban was later lifted in April the same year.
Last year, short after the imposition of the import ban, press reports quoting Buya Bamba; one of the major producers of potatoes in the country had disclosed that it was unable to meet the demand.
He however said that when local farmers do not have the product, imports are allowed in small quantities, and those available end up being very expensive making consumers suffer.
As earlier alluded to, in February last year, Government banned the importation of onion and table potatoes in order to prioritize and promote consumption of locally produced fruits and vegetables adding that the country was able to meet the demand for the two commodities.
This ban saw a shortage and sharp increase in the prices of the two commodities, which later led to government lifting the ban initially on the importation of onion, and now eventually on potatoes.
For now, the greatest question on every reader’s mind is, is the back-and-forth policy change in the agricultural sector going to continue in the New Dawn Government era?
Should the nation continue to expect up hazard onion and potato bans and their subsequent reversals?
What are the effects of such policy actions and what’s the long-term solution in sight?
Look out for another exciting article in next week’s edition.
For comments e-mail: ntumbograndy@yahoo.com Mobile +260977403113 +260955403113
The author is the Managing Consultant at G. N Grant Business Consultant, a Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA), a Master of Business Administration (MBA) holder, with a Specialism in Strategic Planning, and a candidate for the Herriot Watt University (Scotland) Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

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