Eswatini’s white maize imports have increased by more than double in the past year, from 20 622 in 2019 tonnes to 43 370 tonnes.
An annual report released by the National Agricultural Board (NAMBaord) on July 19, 2021 attributes the increase to the decline of local production and imports by Non-Governmental Organisations for the purposes of donation through relief programmes.
“Maize and maize products under imported scheduled products listed in this report include white maize, yellow maize, animal feed, popcorn, maize meal and starch. Other maize products include breakfast cereals, maize grits, and hominy chomp,” the reports states.
The import of yellow maize, which is a major component in the production of animal feed, has also increased by at least 22 per cent, from 80 507 which was imported in the 2018/2019 year to 91,564 tonnes in 2019/2020. “In monetary terms for yellow maize import was US$14.47 million in the year under review and US$11.87 million previous year,” NAMBoard states.
According to the report, the imports of rice, wheat, fruits and vegetables also showed a slight increase both in quantity and value, ranging from 9 per cent to 45 per cent during the year under review.
The amount and value of imported fruits increased from US$3.67 million in 2019 to US$17.4 million in 2020 while the value of vegetables imports increased from US$11.1 million in 2019 to US$15.6 million.
“The import of fruits and vegetables, which is the second largest category after grains and grain products (wheat and maize, is largely dominated by small-scale traders and large retail shops, including green groceries and distributors. The most imported fruits were banana, grapefruits, oranges, apples and lemons while the most imported vegetables were potatoes, beans, onions, carrot, beetroot and tomatoes.”
A survey conducted in 2019 indicated that the top partner countries from which Eswatini imports vegetables are neighbouring South Africa, United States, Egypt, Arab Republic of Malaysia and Argentina.
While farmers are concerned about the increasing imports, NAMBaord CEO Siphephiso Dlamini presented its positive side saying it highlights that Eswatini is competitive regarding ease of doing business.
NAM Board Chairperson Professor Mike Matsebula said they managed to retain export markets in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and overseas, while also securing new overseas export markets supply exceeding 6 000 tonnes.
In Eswatini, the rapidly growing vegetable specialty is baby vegetables, thanks to the EU-SADC EPA and EU-funded assistance to ensure that the products complied with the EU food safety standards.
“Currently, 1 500 small farmers (and their 700 family and seasonal workers) produce baby vegetables and export them to South Africa and to the EU via the National Agricultural Marketing Board. Demand for Eswatini’s baby vegetables is around 5 tonnes per year; and this trend is rising, translating into export earnings of around EUR 2.4 million,” a report by the EU reads.