Agriculture ministry deprives consumers of key goods

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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