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    Vegetable traders and vendors in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) are fuming over the ban on South African potatoes, saying this will worsen the shortage of the commodity on the market.

    The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development has said imported potatoes contain bacteria that could be harmful to health.

    They said besides making them lose business, the ban had pushed the price of a pocket of potatoes from US$7 to US$12 by Friday. Government last week launched a nationwide blitz on imported potatoes, which has seen more than 10 tonnes of imported produce seized in Bulawayo.

    A snap survey by our Bulawayo Bureau on Friday showed a shortage of potatoes.

    A potato trader said: "All the local potatoes we had have been finished and demand remains high.

    "We no longer sell imported potatoes because we are afraid of being raided.

    "This issue was not properly communicated to us and today some of the neighbouring market outlets were raided."A vendor, Mr Moses Ncube decried the ban saying: "We strongly condemn such sudden reactions by Government.

    "We were not consulted on this issue and only saw authourities raiding us. We are trying to eke out a living and if they crush us like this, most of us will be rendered destitute."

    Another vendor who declined to be named vowed to continue selling imported potatoes.

    "They will do everything they can but we will continue to sell these potatoes because that is where we get our income.

    "As it most people have hidden stocks in their places and they sell them at night."Bulawayo Traders Association secretary Mr Dumisani Ncube said the blitz ill-timed.

    "We are already in the festive season and demand for potatoes is high and local producers are failing to satisfy the demand,"said Mr Ncube.

    "This will increase the shortage and push the prices up, which means loss of business for many traders.

    "As a result, smuggling of the commodity will increase."

    According to the Agriculture Ministry, most imported potatoes are illegally smuggled into Zimbabwe and find their way onto the market without inspection.

    Local farmers had also complained that they could not compete with cheaper South African imports.