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The battle between the local potato industry and global importers has a long-standing history, with South Africa (SA) being considered a prime destination for dumping frozen processed potato products. With the recent lapse of anti-dumping duty protection, there is a significant risk that the increased volume of below-cost frozen French fries that land on our shores from the Netherlands and Belgium, will cripple SA producers.

Willie Jacobs, CEO of Potatoes South Africa (PSA), expressed concern for the local potato industry and pleaded for local support. “South African producers have been experiencing many challenges brought on by Covid-19, the cost-price squeeze, rising input costs and most recently, the riots in parts of the country.

“Furthermore, our producers don’t benefit from the financial support afforded to farmers in the European Union (EU) by their governments, and simply cannot compete with below-cost products being dumped in our country. With less demand for local produce, there will be a ripple effect on livelihoods and job losses, not to mention the effect on the economy.”

The SA potato industry employs an estimated 45 000 permanent and seasonal labourers and is worth approximately R7,5 billion at primary level, and R26 billion at secondary level. On average, the industry plants between around 50 000ha of potatoes, with the crop accounting for 45% of the total vegetable crop produced in SA. This equates to a contribution of around R8,5 billion to the SA economy.

As just one example, McCain Foods SA supports more than 6 800 full-time employees and procures potatoes from more than 100 local farmers, who plant in excess of 4 500ha of potatoes annually.

McCain Foods SA’s managing director, Unathi Mhlatyana, echoed Jacobs’ sentiments. “The negative financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and other prevailing socio-economic and market conditions on local farmers and producers, have been catastrophic. Further threats in terms of both demand and cost may force local growers and processors out of business. Supporting the local agricultural sector is the most powerful and promising measure of combating the effects of agricultural dumping, which directly threatens our economy and livelihoods.”

The SA agricultural sector, and more particularly, the local potato industry, depends on the collective efforts of consumers, businesses, and our government to embrace and support local growers and producers.

The environmental benefits of buying local produce are obvious, with the protection of SA’s natural ecosystem, a smaller carbon footprint associated with the distribution of the product, and the knowledge that locally produced products are also typically linked to more environmentally friendly practices. Furthermore, by buying and selling locally, we will ensure that the revenue remains within SA, allowing us to drive and sustain our local economy, secure and promote jobs, and ultimately rebuild our country. – Press release, Potatoes South Africa