In an effort to protect local producers from international competition and ensure protection of Smallholder farmers in the country, the Ministry of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing, under the then Minister, Hon. Phapano issued a notice of temporary ban on the importation of tomatoes, green pepper and green beans, starting on the 1st of February 2021 to 28th February 2021. While this move may be seen as a noble one and thoughtful of the government, it is not enough..
This came as a response to “an apparent” bumper harvest and a significant increase in local production of these vegetables, in order to allow local markets to consume locally produced products while also securing a market for these products; especially formal markets, which have been known for a long time to source their vegetables from the neighboring Republic of South Africa (RSA).
The ban of imports of specific products is a measure that countries impose as a protective measure for country producers against foreign firms. It assists local producers to secure larger share of market locally and hence secures local employment. While this effort is a need especially for Lesotho which competes with RSA with produce which is cheaper and consistent, it is not effective on its own and requires a number of structural adjustments in place. This is because the effects of such a ban may look beneficial on the surface but without these structures it can work against what it was intended for.
The type of structures needed before Lesotho made this decision were to have a marketplace where large retailers and individual businesses can go get these variety of products in one place. Currently the issue of supply chains in Lesotho regarding agricultural produce is not yet organized, such that it is left with individual farmers to approach buyers and vice versa to present their products. The said farmer may not necessarily have the required and consistent quantities needed for these buyers, as well as putting farmers at liberty of either setting the price higher than or lower than the market price; or leaving farmers vulnerable to large quantity buyers such that these buyers set their own price (which may be unreasonably low). These volatile market prices without a general open market price are not sustainable and leaves either the producers or buyers exposed to high risk. In International Trade Economics, one of the risks discovered with these type of bans is that trade barriers cause a limited choice of products and, therefore, would force customers to pay higher prices and accept inferior quality. Lesotho is yet to operationalize the fresh markets at Ha-Tikoe (Maseru) and Leribe. In the event that these are not yet operational, the move to ban imports may be premature even though may be a need.
Another structure that is needed is a method to easily collect statistics in the absence of market centers. Statistics of how much local producers have currently, how long they will have the products and where they are based is very critical. Currently buyers do not get a variety of these vegetables in one place, and buyers therefore do not know where to go; how much to expect; what quality do the products have. I have already showed the disadvantage of not having the marketplace. This makes local buyers lack confidence in our local producers as well as fatigue as they end up having to call different individuals every other day trying to source fresh produce to put on their shelves. A similar imposition of vegetables ban was effected by the Botswana Government in January 2019, this saw prices of vegetables shooting up as there was little competition of products in the market.
With this wonderful move by the Government of Lesotho, it is even more critical that these structures are put in place as fast as possible in order to ensure that both the farmers/producers and buyers do not get a raw deal out of this and both benefit in order to boost the economy as well as increase employment. Hence it is not enough to ban without ensuring fair trade practices as well as known and recorded availability of quality products.