Potatoes are a star on South African dining tables. From fast food to our home-cooked Sunday Seven colours meals; it’s hard to imagine a South African household that doesn’t eat potatoes

While people around the world have been enjoying cooking challenges and learning new recipes during the lockdown, global food industries have been hard hit by restrictions on movement and sales.

Surprisingly, the agricultural and meat producing industries have been affected too, because of the reduced demand from restaurants, eateries and South African informal food traders.

Potato farmers are among those hardest hit and now face a new threat to their livelihoods: an increase in imported potato products.

Read more: 5 Reasons potatoes are actually good for you

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Why are we getting potatoes from Europe?

South Africa is one of the main markets for Europe’s processed potato products. Products like frozen potato cakes, frozen potato chips and others make their way across the oceans by the ton every year.

Because the COVID -19 pandemic has affected food industries across the globe creating a surplus of foods we usually consume a lot of, the amount of imported potato products has increased, since South Africa is now accepting more imported potato products that are part of the European surplus.

“The local potato industry has already suffered significantly from a decrease in demand as a result of COVID-19 related regulations, such as the closure of restaurants and fast food outlets, restricted trade and movement of informal traders. The result was a significant drop in prices far below break-even prices for producers and a build-up of stock levels in the processing sector. A further blow due to low priced imports from other countries could be catastrophic,” says André Jooste CEO of Potato South Africa (PSA).

A bio russet potato wooden vintage background.
Copyright : GitaKulinica Kulinica (123rf.com)

What does this mean for your budget?

While the everyday potato consumer could be using this as an opportunity to score on cheaper imported potato products, cashing in on imported potatoes might cost you in the long run.

“Consumers could face higher prices if South African growers and processors are forced out of business”

The surplus of imported potatoes is only temporary and the short-lived savings could put a long term and even permanent strain on South African potato farmers who do not enjoy the same government support as their EU counterparts. This could drive some farmers out of business, create hardship for others and drive up the price of local potatoes affecting the local food industry and consumers negatively.

“In fact, a longer-term consequence is that consumers could face higher prices if South African growers and processors are forced out of business as a result of cheap imports on the back of COVID-19 inflicted reasons,” says André.

What can you do about it?

Buying proudly South African products may have been simpler in the past, however, the financial pressure we are all feeling often means our loyalty lies with the cheapest products.

By bringing the situation to light André says the PSA hopes for the support of South Africans through this tough time in the hopes that we can all benefit after this period.

“It is therefore imperative that we prioritise our growers, our supply chain and the expansion of the local agricultural economy; especially if we are to combat the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says André

“As such, while we wait for an answer from government, we appeal to buyers and other decision-makers to think twice about where they’re sourcing their potato product from, to ensure they continue to support the local industry which so desperately needs to recover from the pandemic and keep operations afloat,” he adds.

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