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December 17, 2008

Namibia to negotiate with South Africa over fruit fly-caused export ban

by Nangula Sejavali

Talks with the South African government to lift the export moratorium on various Namibian horticultural products were set to commence in early December, with the Namibian side citing the ban as "unfair."

The moratorium, which came into effect at the end of October due to the fruit fly, Bactrocera invadens, has already cost exporters of Namibian products. The 600-hectare Etunda Irrigation Scheme has reported foregone income in excess of N$4 million. Affected products include butternut, watermelons, tomatoes and mangoes.

Although the produce remains safe for consumption, because fruit flies are classified as "quarantine organisms", which means that no fruit containing larvae may be exported on threat of rejection and total destruction of the shipment, they cannot be exported.

Andrew Ndishishi, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, described the ban as "unfair" and "unprocedural." He said that proper consultations were not held before the ban was imposed. "They were supposed to notify us of the problem, engage us in talks on how the products were problematic, and then they were supposed to say what the action would be and to give notice of how long this might take," he said.

In preparation for the talks, Ndishishi said that the government was conducting a delimiting survey, which includes setting up an increased number of traps for the fruit flies and taking note of their numbers. Asked when he thought the ban might be lifted, Ndishishi responded, "very soon."

While talks are ongoing, according to Ndishishi, other factors are also being dealt with by the government to ensure the future sustainability of the market in such instances. "We are looking at developing the domestic market for improved local absorption of products in the future.We are also working on setting up processing facilities at Rundu, Oshakati and Windhoek, so that products that can't be marketed outside the country can be processed at these facilities." Ndishishi said that a tender for the construction of these facilities had already been advertised.It is hoped that they would be completed by the end of the current financial year.

Vilho Nghipondoka, Etunda's general manager, said that he was aware of the government's intention to hold talks with South Africa and that Etunda may be a part of these talks.With millions of dollars in losses, coupled with the early termination of work contracts for several seasonal labourers, the scheme has been dealt a serious blow.In the meantime, affected products of Etunda (of which 80 per cent are usually exported to South Africa) and other producers are being sold on the domestic market at a fraction of the retail value, in order to get rid of the excess supply.

The Namibian

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