Given the importance of fresh produce markets to food supply chains and the economy, markets must be recognized as national focal points and given urgent priority to address the lack of maintenance and security before these sites only deteriorate “beyond the point of no return”.
There are currently 23 NFPMs across the country, the majority of which are owned and operated by municipalities. Responsible for up to 80% of all fresh produce sales in the country, these markets not only play a vital role in price formation and setting, but are also essential in ensuring food supplies for vulnerable communities through informal traders, creating inclusive selling mechanisms for smallholder farmers to access markets and generate significant revenue for municipalities.
Demonstrating their economic importance, the latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, Agrarian Reform and Rural Development show that fresh produce markets sold some 3.4 million tonnes of fresh fruits and vegetables with a turnover of 17 billion rand in 2019.
But although municipalities charge a 5% fee on all turnover for the operation of the markets, little has been reinvested in the upkeep of the markets in recent years. In particular, farmers, agricultural associations and market agents warned of the lack of security, poor maintenance of infrastructure and hygiene standards, and expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the management of the market.
“Farmers and traders expect a certain level of quality in markets, particularly because they are selling fresh food products where sanitation is essential,” noted Willie Jacobs, CEO of Potatoes South Africa.
“But as things stand, market spaces are often filthy, safety is a major concern and farmers even find it difficult to get their produce safely to markets because of uneven roads and nest- of chicken”.
About 60% of fresh produce market turnover comes from the informal sector, and without markets, most vendors would have no way of reaching farmers effectively.
But product losses resulting from inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, such as breakdowns of cooling facilities, are increasingly deterring farmers from trading in markets.
Francois Knowles, Registrar of the Agricultural Commodity Agents Council (APAC), noted that the roundtable was a positive step forward, adding, “We are at a point of no return. We can no longer accept this as the norm. Markets must change, evolve, and their importance must once again be brought to light.
“Crisis creates opportunity. These round tables mean that for the first time in a long time, we can talk to each other about what needs to be done. We must not focus on the small things but on the big issues, and working together to resolve the fundamentals, we can put the markets back on a positive path.”
Steps in the right direction
After raising their concerns, the group applauded the recent announcement by the city of Tshwane that it would invest R18 million in upgrading the Tshwane market as a major step in the right direction, although it has noted that much more should be done to revitalize its infrastructure. .
Likewise, industry leaders announced the plans and progress made in the Joburg market as a positive and inspiring example for all municipalities and markets in the country.
Thokozani Thwala, Chairman of the Joburg Market Board, noted that the new Market Board, appointed in February this year, was well aware of the challenges mentioned and was committed to implementing demonstrable improvements to solve these problems within the next three years.
Its leadership had already met with the executive mayor of the city of Johannesburg and secured R149 million in funding for upgrading the market’s facilities over the next financial year, he said.
As one of the largest fresh produce markets in the country, the Joburg market sees an average of 13,000 traders per day and, according to Thwala, boasts a market share of around 48% and a turnover of around R8.6 billion a year. His influence makes the Joburg market the perfect place to implement change and set an example for the other 22 markets in the country.
The question has been raised as to whether funding is an issue and why market profits do not appear to be reinvested for maintenance purposes.
“There are currently over R350m in our accounts, so funding has not been the issue. Rather there seems to have been a lack of strategy, capacity issues and getting the right political support.” , Thwala said.
“Our banana ripening facilities keep breaking down. Our cold rooms keep breaking down. We just can’t have that when money isn’t an issue. We’ve found that we need competent people to help us, which is why we are already in the process of carrying out a full skills audit.
Thwala said ensuring a constant supply of electricity to the facility has also been a problem as fresh produce markets are subject to load shedding.
While the Joburg market currently spends around R56 million on electricity a year, it also has to pay large amounts of diesel to run the generators during load shedding, and its market management plans to purchase two more generators to the tune of of R25 million to help fill immediate supply gaps.
To solve this problem, the Council intends to take the Joburg market off the grid within the next three years by investing in solar panels. Likewise, its directors have asked national government officials to recognize all fresh produce markets as national hotspots to exempt them from offloading.
Thwala added that the council and other municipal stakeholders will participate in a clean-up event at Joburg Market, during which the Johannesburg Roads Agency will also fill potholes and set up new road markings.
“In the last financial year alone, Joburg Market has given the city around R110 million of our profits. We are currently in talks with the City of Johannesburg to retain our profits over the next three years so that we can reinvest everything in the market.. I am happy to say that there is already political support for this proposal,” he said.