During a virtual panel discussion this week by advocacy group FairPlay and Food for Mzansi, agricultural experts said affordability of farm produce and high unemployment are the death knell for South Africa’s food sustainability. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)
During a virtual panel discussion this week by advocacy group FairPlay and Food for Mzansi, agricultural experts said affordability of farm produce and high unemployment are the death knell for South Africa’s food sustainability. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

Steep fresh produce prices slammed

By Banele Ginindza Time of article published Aug 29, 2021

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SHAREHOLDER capital is under fire for hiking fresh food produce by almost 300 percent last year at the expense of small-scale and emerging farmers.

During a virtual panel discussion this week by advocacy group FairPlay and Food for Mzansi, agricultural experts said affordability of farm produce and high unemployment are the death knell for South Africa’s food sustainability.

The experts called for urgent reforms to ensure space was created for the informal market’s bakkie trade ,given the almost 300 percent increase in the price of fresh produce, including tomatoes, potatoes, and onions.

They claimed the fresh produce items were procured from the farmer at between R3.73 and R4.30 a kilogram and sold at a minimum of R16.80 a kilogram in the past year.

Municipal open markets – only 17 left around the country – emerged as the ideal solution for price discovery between supply and demand.

Marc Wegerif, a post-doctoral fellow at the Human Economy Programme at the University of Pretoria, said the numbers would never add up, with a minor percentage accounting for more than 80 percent of the output, and 80 percent of those willing to farm having no access to land and financial backing. “Fifty percent of the poorest own nothing. More than fifty percent of South Africa cannot afford a healthy nutritional diet. They must be vested in the economy; the current food system does not work for the majority of the people. Only two companies have 70 percent of the maize trade in the country,” Wegerif said.

He decried the astronomical shareholder value created by retailers at the expense of the farmer at the coalface of the elements. He cited the over 120 percent earnings per share on grains alone by principals of the Shoprite Holdings and Tiger Brands in recent months, to be increasing revenue by 10 percent while selling smaller volumes though making a 14 percent compensation to shareholders.

“Black and other informal farmers can get better value selling directly to the market, making themselves part of the value chain; there is need for a different value chain for small-scale farmers,” he said.

The panel said the biggest loser was the black farmworker, who does not earn enough to afford the between R3 643 and R4 241 basic food basket for their families, paying R341 extra over the last 12 months. Standard Bank Agricultural economist Hamlet Hlomendlini, said there was a need to level the playing field.

“The growth lacks inclusiveness, a lot of people do not participate in the economy, our agricultural sector is mostly dualistic, only the side of the big-scale commercial farmer is contributing, the small-scale farmers, mostly black, are not,” Hlomendlini said.

In a recent encounter, Wegerif said a group of 40 black farmers worked under insecure tenure, collectively working under 10 hectares; 23 of them were renting land from failed grant recipients, only five owned the land and the rest practised on communal land.

FairPlay founder Francois Baird, said better regulation was required.

“We need sensible regulations. There should be a getter way for civil servants to implement the requirements of food safety and security,” Baird said.

A loophole was identified in government’s prioritising of commercial agricultural enterprise in policy and regulation, though it constituted fewer participants than the black farmworker and black consumer market.

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