Southern African agricultural exporters at risk due to COVID-19

Farmers across Southern Africa are facing the prospect of being unable to sell their products to lucrative foreign markets due to restrictions in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

In particular, agricultural producers and traders in South Africa and Zimbabwe – two of the region’s major breadbaskets – will acutely feel the impact of lockdowns, shutdowns of ports and border closures.

While South Africa last week eased its lockdown restrictions and reopened key sectors including agriculture, producers may have to consider rerouting their foreign exports to regional markets with non-essential cargo restrictions remaining in place.

In Zimbabwe, global restrictions on cargo and a decline in demand are a setback for the country’s nut farmers, according to James Maisiri, head of the Macadamia Association of Zimbabwe.

“We have completed orders which are waiting for export to China, but we can’t send them now because of the coronavirus. Now we don’t know if the orders will still be there after these stages of the coronavirus [and lockdown] have passed,” he said.

Echoing this point, specialist in customs and trade at law firm Baker McKenzie Virusha Subban said African exporters to China are significantly exposed to risk as coronavirus forces Chinese buyers to look inward.

“With China having shut down its manufacturing and closed its ports, there has been a resultant decrease in demand for African commodities. Importers in China cancelled orders due to port closures and as a result of reduction in consumption in China,” she said.