HARARE, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has banned imports of fruit and vegetables with immediate effect to preserve scarce foreign exchange, the agriculture minister said on Tuesday.
The country dumped its currency for the U.S. dollar in 2009 because it was wrecked by hyperinflation but it is now running short of dollars as well as quasi-currency “bond note” introduced last year to ease cash shortages.
Last year Zimbabwe spent more than $80 million on fruit and vegetables, according to national statistics agency Zimstat. The produce included tomatoes, onions, carrots, grapes, apples and oranges.
Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told the Herald newspaper he had been directed by President Robert Mugabe to stop the importation of fruit and vegetables because “they waste much needed foreign currency.”
“This means that the importation of fruit and vegetables will be stopped immediately. We are finalising on the exact list of foreign-produced fruits that are occupying shelves in shops,” Made said.
Made declined to comment further when contacted by Reuters.
Zimbabwe relies heavily on cheaper imports from neighbouring South Africa, its biggest trading partner, and has over the years struggled to produce enough to meet domestic demand.
In June, the government also banned maize imports, saying the country produced enough to satisfy domestic demand.
Made said the ban would allow local farmers to increase output while saving the country foreign currency.
A majority of banks have stopped giving out cash and when they do, it is in the form of bond coins.
Most Zimbabweans are keeping U.S. dollars at home while those who want to travel or pay for imports buy currency on the black market. The same thing happened during the period of hyperinflation a decade ago. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)