28 July 2013

Zimbabwe: Farmers Cry Foul Over Gmo Potatoes

Bulawayo — Genetically-modified potatoes which are being smuggled from South Africa continue to flood the country despite spirited efforts by local farmers to stop their illegal importation which is driving them out of business.

The government banned the importation of potatoes about three years ago to protect local farmers.

Investigations by Standardcommunity revealed that cheap potatoes from South Africa continue to flood the southern parts of the country, especially Bulawayo.

Farmers who spoke to Standardcommunity said the smuggling of potatoes had become a major challenge in reviving the once vibrant sector.

"We are concerned that potatoes continue to be smuggled into the country at our expense," said Danisa Moyo, a farmer from Umguza in Matabeleland North. "We have enough supplies of potatoes to feed the country and there is no reason why we should have these genetically-modified potatoes on the local market. That is killing the local farming industry."

Moyo blamed rampant corruption at Beitbridge Border Post where the smugglers are allegedly paying government officers to let in the agricultural produce.

"There is need to deal with the smugglers who are bribing Zimbabwe Revenue Authority [Zimra] officials, police and security officers so that we can stop this rot," said Moyo.

The Potato Council of Zimbabwe (PCZ) recently gave a stern warning to those who continue to smuggle potatoes in the country.

"The Potato Council of Zimbabwe promotes the production of locally-produced potatoes. We warn all stakeholders that South African potatoes are being illegally imported and sold on the Bulawayo market," said the council in a statement. "Please be advised there is a risk of confiscation when the government authorities take measures to stamp out this illegal trade."

The PCZ said there were adequate supplies of locally-produced potatoes in the country.

PCZ vice-chairman, Ronald Museka said smuggling of potatoes was affecting the viability of the local potato farming industry.

He challenged Zimra and law enforcement agents to stop the smuggling of potatoes into the country.

Efforts to get a comment from Zimra were fruitless last week.

Local consumers are shunning local potatoes arguing that they were too expensive.

In Bulawayo, a bag of imported potatoes costs about US$8 while locally-produced potatoes cost between US$12 and US$16 for a 15kg pocket.

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