The horticulture industry of Zimbabwe is calling for higher import tariffs on imported horticulture products to avert the collapse of the local industry.
Zimbabwe Farmers' Union second vice-president Mr Berean Mukwende said there has been an increase in the quantities of potatoes and tomatoes being imported from South Africa and sold cheaply on the market.
"The Government and Agricultural Marketing Authority should impose stiffer measures to curb the importation of these products so that we can grow our market,"he said.
He said cheap imports were crowding out Zimbabwean producers who have been forced to reduce their prices to compete with imported products.
"Our farmers are capable of producing enough to supply the market and export, but when faced with the cheap imports from South Africa, our produce becomes expensive for the consumer,"he said.
He said the South African government subsidised its farmers and gives them export incentives which make their produce cheaper compared to local produce. In 2010, AMA imposed a ban on imported potatoes from South Africa as local producers were failing to compete with the prices of South African potatoes.
However, stricter measures to enforce the ban was no possible as this would have resulted in serious shortages of the produce on the market as local producers were at the time not yet able to meet demand.
Mr Mukwende said local farmers were now able to meet demand hence the need to scale up the restrictions. He added that depending on imports was not a good idea as it put the country at risk of importing potatoes with diseases that would destroy the sector. Mr Mukwende also said there was need to improve varieties of products in order to increase yields.
"Currently, we are using varieties that have a low yield of up to 20 tonnes per hectare but other countries are now using varieties that yield 80 tonnes per hectare,"he said.
He said since the country was already importing seed potato, it was a good idea to import high-yield seeds while channelling resources towards researches that would help come up with a local high-yield variety seed. Traditionally, potatoes have been grown by large-scale commercial farmers in Zimbabwe but more and more smallholder farmers are now growing the crop.
Communal areas around Nyanga, Mutasa, Domboshava, Chiweshe, Wedza, Goromonzi and Mhondoro are producing significant quantities of the crop. An estimated 900 to 1 000 hectares are put under potato production every year.
It costs between US$4 500 and US$6 500 per hectare to produce potatoes, which is out of reach for some small scale farmers but the high returns offered by the crop and the short production period facilitate rapid establishment of cropping programmes and enhances farm development.
Farmers can realise between US$0, 67 to US$0, 80 per kg on potatoes.