President Mnangagwa’s working visit to Botswana could bear early fruits after the Zimbabwean business delegation that accompanied the President was offered opportunities to export agricultural produce to that country. The mineral rich country imports the bulk of its food requirements, shipping in an estimated $500 million annually worth of agricultural produce from the Sadc region, especially South Africa.
Zimbabwe has, however, not been able to exploit opportunities presented by this market, due, among other things, to land underutilisation, stringent trade protocols and the previously strained political relations between the two neighbours.
In an interview on her return from Botswana, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) president Devine Ndhlukula said Zimbabwe had an opportunity to boost its exports by filling up gaps in Botswana’s agricultural products market.
Mrs Ndhlukula, however, said the success of the offer hinged on favourable trade protocols being negotiated by the Governments of the two countries. “We held discussions with the Botswana’s private sector on where we can co-operate during the President’s visit,” Mrs Ndhlukula said.
“From the discussions obviously the first step, which I must say I am happy with is already happening, is that the two Governments are working on trade protocols that should facilitate and make smooth easy movement of goods across our borders because at the present moment it is it is almost impossible.
“They (Botswana business) brought to our attention the opportunities that exist there as they import heavily for their food requirements every year.
Mrs Ndhlukula also said Botswana businesses also brought to her delegation’s attention the opportunities available in other sectors like poultry where their import bill stands at around $100 million, dairy products $55 million, horticulture $30 million, piggery $17 million and beef products where $180 million is spent annually.
Mrs Ndhlukula allayed fears that locals might fail to meet demand as most farms were underutilised saying with available demand and Government support they could meet the demand.
“Capacity is not necessarily an issue that should worry us, I think we have the capacity to supply their market, but what then needs to be done is for Government to assist us because if you look at products like tomatoes they go on to rot in pick seasons,” she said.
According to a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, agriculture used to be a major contributor to Botswana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) before it was deposed by mining in the 1970s.
By 1996 mining had grown to account for 36 percent of total GDP, while agriculture contributed just 3,5 percent and has continued on a free fall. The decline, according to FAO, is largely due to the country’s limited available arable land.
FAO notes that less than 5 percent of the total land area is cultivable with the rest of the soil in rather poor state coupled with inadequate rainfall.