Press reports indicate that a Namibian programme to promote production of certain agricultural products for the local market has been extremely successful. Local production now meets ‘30% of the local demand for fresh produce’. A study in 2008 undertaken by PricewaterhouseCooper’s under the auspices of the Namibian Agronomic Board ‘found that maximum possible local production would reach 60% of local demand’.
Meanwhile a €2 million programme has been launched in Tanzania to promote the commercialisation of subsistence fruit farming for export. The aim of the programme is to establish the infrastructure to assist smallholders meet strict export requirements. More than 600 farmers in the Coastal Region, Zanzibar and Tabora are expected to benefit from the programme. Since the mid-1990s, horticulture and floriculture have been the top non-traditional exports in Tanzania.
The highly successful Namibian programme, which targets only those markets where products can be produced under commercially viable conditions, would face serious difficulties if the existing IEPA provisions, which require the immediate abolition of import-licensing arrangements upon entry into force of the IEPA, came into effect. While the success of the Namibian programme is based on promoting industry dialogue and establishing a computerised database of local supply and demand in order to effectively link producers with markets, it is underpinned by a system of import-licensing for specified horticultural products which allows the withholding of import licences if companies fail to meet local procurement targets without good reasons. While the withholding of import licences very rarely occurs, it provides a powerful incentive to effective dialogue along the supply chain.
The centrality of the import-licensing system was recognised at the March 2009 Swakopmund consultation and gave rise to an agreement on a compromise text on the use of import licences. However, the failure to incorporate this revised provision in the actual text of the agreement to be signed has generated concerns as to whether, de facto, the continuation of the scheme would be allowed once the IEPA enters into force. Thus what appears from one angle to be a mere legal quibble could in reality potentially have profound implications for a dynamic sector development programme which is making a significant contribution to poverty alleviation and rural development in Namibia.