Rwanda maintains ban on agric imports over listeria disease

Before the ban, Rwanda was importing up to 60 tonnes of fruits from South Africa annually. File.

The Rwandan Government says it does not have immediate plans to lift the ban, which was imposed on the importation of meat, dairy products and vegetables from South Africa nearly two years ago over a viral disease commonly known as listeriosis.

Rwanda says it is still waiting for an internationally recognised body to declare that the danger was over.

The Director General of Livestock at the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Théogène Rutagwenda, told The New Times in an exclusive interview that what makes listeria, a food borne disease, even more dangerous is that it can co-exist with other microorganisms and can even survive under refrigeration.

“We waited for a South African government regulatory body as well as an international recognisded body to declare that the danger was over and this never came. In addition, there was no recall of products and you cannot rely on any other avenue other than officially recognised channels for declaration of safety,” he said.

The Animal Product Certification Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Denyse Mukamana, says that unless the product is new, there was no need for Rwanda to import things that are being produced locally.

“No new communication about the ban has been done but we also don’t really have to import things like poultry when we are producing them locally,” she said.

“When it comes to things like turkey meat that we don’t produce locally,” she disclosed; “then you can write and explain why you need to be certified to import.”

Before the ban, Rwanda was importing up to 60 tonnes of fruits from South Africa annually including oranges, apples, kiwis, pears and grapes while hotels alone import 2.4 tonnes of beef from South Africa every month.

The ban came into force on December 2017 after the disease claimed 60 people in South Africa. The death toll has since surpassed 180.

Though treatable and preventable, listeriosis is a serious disease caused by the bacterium called listeria monocytogenes, which can be found in soil, water and vegetation.

While anyone can get listeriosis, those at high risk include new-borns, the elderly, pregnant women and persons with weak immunity.

Symptoms from the food-borne disease include diarrhoea, fever, general body pains, vomiting and weakness.