Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Agriculture ministry deprives consumers of key goods

Agriculture ministry deprives consumers of key goods

Thursday, 29 July 2010 19:31

FOR  successfully hosting the Fifa World Cup,  South Africa effectively
banished Africa’s reputation for inefficiency and slackness. The tournament,
regarded around the world as an outstanding success showcasing Africa’s
potential for investment and growth, has demonstrated the keen attitude
which all Africans display towards innovation, commitment and co-operation.

However, it seems that this attitude towards co-operation and mutuality has
not carried across the Limpopo River. Zimbabwe’s own Ministry of Agriculture
has displayed that stereotypical lackadaisical attitude (which this
celebration of the beautiful game had sought to banish) towards the
taxpayers of this country, in its refusal to co-operate with South African
manufacturers and their Zimbabwean representatives over the importation of
key household goods into Zimbabwe due to the supposed threat of Rift Valley
Fever (RVF).

The scaremongering of the ministry has left angry Zimbabwean consumers short
of key kitchen essentials such as chicken, beef, pork and long-life UHT
milk, and has sent prices soaring across Harare for the past three months
due to the shortages on the market.

The ministry claims the basis of these restrictions lies with the threat to
the consumer of Rift Valley Fever, a disease first discovered in Kenya in
the early 20th Century. It is a livestock disease which can pass to humans
who handle the untreated carcasses of infected animals, and its risk is
nullified by effective treatment of the infected animals and a strict
adherence to hygiene. It was reported in a few remote farms in South Africa
several months ago, and has been stringently monitored by South Africa’s own
agricultural department since.

While the ministry’s vigilance is admirable, as its first priority should be
consumer safety, its lack of consumer awareness and its blunt refusal to
cooperate with both its South African counterparts and with local suppliers
of South African produce, is most certainly not. Despite constant appeals
made by all affected parties to the ministry since April, which have cited
both the safety of the goods destined for the Zimbabwean market and the
consistently high standards to which they have been produced, ministry
officials still refuse to issue the necessary importation permits to keep
the market sufficiently supplied.

This has affected Zimbabweans from all walks of life. The lack of imported
chicken is perhaps the most noticeable, with prices across the country
rising as the protein shortage has kicked in. A Mrs Chitaro, a customer in a
supermarket last week, said: “It is just like the Zimbabwe of two years
ago – no produce on the shelves, and if there is, the price just keeps
rising. I thought this had all changed with the US dollar.”

The shortage of South African dairy produce has also been felt, with butter
and cheese missing from many stores nationwide.
And while local manufacturers may have benefited from this, they cannot
consistently keep up with the demand. To South African manufacturers, the
impression of Zimbabwe adopting a veiled form of protectionism is not being
ruled out, and has left many in agriculture and industry south of the border
seething at lost sales to one of the region’s biggest markets for their
consumer goods.

However, it is not just Zimbabwean families which are being deprived of key
items in their shopping basket, but their pets too. The ministry’s
restrictions have carried across to all imported pet food from South Africa,
depriving the nation’s dogs and cats of their best source of nutrition.
Brands such as Pedigree, Alpo, Dogmor and Whiskas, and Iams, the best
selling products in the country in the dog and cat food market, and
formulated by world experts in animal nutrition, are now barred from
importation. This is in spite of evidence given to the Veterinary department
of the Ministry of Agriculture which has demonstrated the absolute safety of
these products in the way they are treated to eliminate any risk of
livestock diseases such as RVF.

Furthermore, the ministry has coupled its blatant lethargy with galling
inconsistency. The restriction on the importation of live horses has been
lifted, and South African UHT milk is also now permitted into the country
under ministerial guidelines.

To make matters even more clear, not a single tourist of the million-plus
visitors to South Africa during the course of the World Cup came down with
the disease. The wonderful example set by South Africa to the rest of the
world of a continent willing to engage in mutual trade and development to
drive investment and growth is being undermined by the Jurassic attitude
demonstrated by our Ministry of Agriculture.

By Own Correspondent


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