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Promoting local fruit and vegetable sourcing: Aspirations and experiences in Southern Africa

25 October 2014

In August 2014, Zambia’s President expressed concern over the continued import of fruits and vegetables, when “Zambian farmers have [the] capacity to supply the local market.” The Zambian government, looking at how it can reduce imports of fruit and vegetables, has initiated a dialogue with major distributors and supermarket chains about how to achieve “a reduction in the importation of agricultural products such as fruit and vegetables that could easily be grown and sourced locally”.

At present, most fruit and vegetables imported into Zambia come from South Africa.  With increasingly difficult market access conditions on traditional European exports markets for fruits, South Africa is pursuing a major export drive to penetrate African and Asian markets (see Agritrade article ‘ South Africa seeks to diversify its fruit export markets’, 12 October 2014).

In Botswana a new protected horticulture project was launched in July to produce for the local market. Currently up to 80% of Botswana’s fresh produce is imported. The new greenhouses are designed to supply horticulture products for the local market on a year-round basis. The initial production of 300 tonnes of Grade-1 vegetables will include tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, lettuce, herbs and strawberries. Leaders of the initiative maintained that the high quality of production will be good enough to target the local 5-star tourism sector market.

In neighbouring Namibia, where a long-standing local horticultural promotion scheme has been in place, the Namibian Agronomic Board (which manages the scheme) has been urged by potato and onion producers to consider extending the Namibian Horticulture Market Share Promotion Rules and Regulations to potatoes and onions. Under these regulations, “wholesalers, retailers and catering companies are encouraged to source their produce locally.” This encouragement is provided by the fact that under this regulatory regime, all importers are “obliged to source a minimum percentage of their purchases from local producers of fresh fruit and vegetables”.

It is reported that Memorandum of Agreement between the Potato and Onion Producer Association and the Namibian Association of Traders in fresh produce should be signed before the end of the current financial year. 

Editorial comment

The Namibian regulatory framework for the local horticultural promotion scheme works effectively because it is based on a transparent system for the allocation of import licences, based on a company’s performance as regards realistic local sourcing targets (see Agritrade articles ‘ Horticulture development programmes under way’, 29 August 2009 and ‘ Efforts under way to consolidate gains in local horticultural production’, 27 September 2010).

These targets are established after a thorough analysis of the potential for commercially viable production of specific products. The targets are progressively increased as commercial deals are made, investment mobilised and production expanded.

This is supported by a restricted access market information system that allows produces, traders and retailers to exchange information on supply and demand on an ongoing, regularly updated basis.

The system operates smoothly, with minimal price-increasing effects, and has over time led to a shift in the mindset of retailers, who increasingly provide dedicated shelf space to locally grown fruit and vegetables, displaying them as “proudly Namibian”. This is in distinct contrast to the earlier centrally orientated procurement systems operated by largely South African-based multiple retailers.

In the 10 years since it started up, the Namibian scheme has seen local sourcing of vegetables covered by the initiative increase from less than 5% of national consumption to 35%.

This approach of systematic analysis of what products are commercially viable, the setting up of market information systems which link producers to buyers, and the transparent use of import licences within a realistic and predictable framework, could potentially hold lessons for the Zambian horticulture sector, as it intensifies its dialogue with local distributors and retailers over how more fruit and vegetables can be sourced locally.


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