A truck and trailer loaded with 30 tons of maize drives into a Beitbridge customs and immigration control point on the South African border with Zimbabwe. File picture: REUTERS
A truck and trailer loaded with 30 tons of maize drives into a Beitbridge customs and immigration control point on the South African border with Zimbabwe. File picture: REUTERS

Harare — 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 US dollar in 2009 because it was wrecked by hyperinflation but it is now running short of dollars as well as the quasi-currency "bond note" introduced last year to ease cash shortages.

Last year Zimbabwe spent more than $80m 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 imports 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 the exact list of foreign-produced fruits that are occupying shelves in shops," Made said.

He declined to comment further when contacted.

Zimbabwe relies heavily on cheaper imports from SA, 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 US 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.

Reuters

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