Respected Harvard University Professor Calestous Juma says banning imports of some vegetables is a blunt tool for stimulating local production of vegetables.
Professor Juma who is Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University said such bans often triggers unnecessary trade reprisals unless there’s evidence of health concerns.
Professor Juma said such bans are also a poor substitute for measures such as investments in local infrastructure that would enable local producers to compete favourably.
He was speaking in an interview with Conversation Africa’s Samantha Spooner about the impact this will have on African countries and their agricultural sectors.
The Zambian government last week banned the imports of some farm produce as a way of promoting the growth of the agriculture sector.
But Professor Juma said, “it’s also important to take into account the political context that leads to bans. Countries like Zambia, for example, don’t have a long agricultural tradition and are under pressure to protect the emerging sector.”
“Zambia historically specialised in mineral exports and relied on food imports from neighbouring countries and international markets. It sought to diversify its economy when global copper markets tanked late last century and the economy collapsed. As a recent entrant into the green vegetable export market, Zambia has previously faced phytosanitary barriers to its exports,” he said.
“Given the circumstances it’s clear why the government would want to protect local producers. But the ban is unlikely to result in the desired outcomes except to provide relief for existing producers. Bans are usually not permanent and so do serve as incentives to encourage new investment that may take a long time to show results.”
Professor Juma said imports are not necessarily bad in themselves adding that they are part of a global system that is theoretically built on the principle of reciprocity.
“This includes the expectation of reasonable balance of trade between the partners. Quite often bans are motivated by imbalances in trade relations.
Banning imports simply because one is seeking to protect local agriculture – and without just cause – is generally a poor approach to achieving food security. In many cases, imbalances in agricultural trade exist because African countries haven’t made the necessary investments – such as storage facilities and capacity building in international trade practices – that allow them to become important players in the global economy. Therefore, imports and suppressed local production tend to reinforce each other,” he stated.
He said even when countries increase production, they still have to contend with the challenges of breaking long-term import contracts or violating international trading rules.