Four days until we all bid farewell to 2019, and while at it spare a thought for a black farmer with no cause to celebrate 2020.
The year 2019, hit smallholder farmers really hard.
We all remember that thousands of pigs had to be slaughtered due to Africa Swine Flu (ASF) that broke in parts of the country.
Auctions were also halted, which resulted in farmers not being able to sell the livestock.
This effectively meant they’d be no income for them.
While the farming community was still recovering from ASF, then the deadly Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) broke out.
Cattle auctions were also halted, costing farmers their regular income, especially those with no deep reserves.
As if all these was not enough, delayed rain affected the crop industry.
And when it finally came, heavy rain and hailstorms were the order of the day.
This hit crop some farmers badly.
They suffered irreparable damage on their farms, as their crop got damaged and swept away in the process.
As if to rub salt into the wound, loadshedding started hitting the country.
This affected farmers so bad that one black farmer in Limpopo lost over 10 000 broiler chickens because of lack of air conditioning.
Will she ever recover? That’s a question for another day.
But the big question I while the whole country is celebrating the festive season, do the farmers have anything to celebrate in particular?
With all the above mentioned, it is clear that farmers were not able to make income and the situation will probably stay the same in the New Year.
Black farmers would sell livestock to send their children to school and to maintain their households.
But all that might not be possible at this point in time.
Now with all these in mind, it is no doubt that smallholder farmers have little to celebrate during this festive season.
It was just another year of probable losses and unfortunately, more and more depressed farmers stare the oncoming year with a spectacle of gloom.
Remember the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development gazetted the banning of live animal auctions due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. For many communal livestock farmers depending on auctions, household essentials such as groceries, school fees and uniforms would have been by now catered for.
In America and Europe, livestock farmers facing such similar situations would be easily compensated and catered for by the respective government including support by ordinary citizens.
Our communal trading system has also been eroded by the integration of large retail stores in the rural and township economy. No longer do consumers seek and buy directly from farmers, food retail stores have provided the necessary convenience.
It is no wonder why around this festive time black farmers struggle to access and penetrate markets. The township and rural consumer base are now more educated about the quality of food they desire to buy and consume.
Such a consumer base is undeniably responsible for denying black farmers access to markets – consciously or unconsciously. Stokvels, for example, are proven to salvage township and rural folk out of hunger during the festive season but have in the process neglected black businesses.
According to Rudzani Mulaudzi, a UCT scholar said there over 820 000 stokvels in the country “with a combined membership of 11.4 million people, handling over R44 billion per annum.” This was a massive contribution to the township economy but sadly most often than not it was the big corporates that stood to benefit directly.
Quick cash-generating platforms such as funerals, weddings, cultural festivals are now notably overshadowed by caterers haughtily formalised by black families. No longer can black farmers supply directly for such functions, black families hire out caterers who in return procure food directly from retail stores.
More amusingly, government imbizo’s where people are called to listen to government leaders especially in rural areas – actual food is not procured from local farmers. Rallies hosted by political parties also suffer from the same disease.
Township corner fruit and vegetable stalls were also proving bourgeoise in exercising their powers to procure from Fresh Produce Markets (FPM) than from farmers directly. No longer do they have to wait for produce from black farmers, a dedicated transport dragging a trunk of fruits and vegetables from FPM delivers to each stall.
A quick survey indicates that a huge percent of produce supplied to FPM is procured from white commercial farmers.
Festive season were golden opportunities for black farmers but 25 years into democracy they are ejected by factors beyond their planning and control. Informal markets are becoming systematically formalised, through push and pull strategy of government policy that enables large corporations to enter rural and township markets.
Township and rural economy revitalisation espoused by the national government was excellent on paper however the reality on the ground was opposite. Could it then be argued that all forms of informal markets were black farmers once dominated are captured?
Poultry hawkers and farmers have skilfully retained and generated massive income during festive seasons. The product is easy to distribute, sell and directly market to households. One chicken farmer said the old tradition of a farmer driving through every street was still a preferred common trading system.
“You not only a farmer to your customers, but you are also a reliable food provider and that is what they view you as and it’s a mental image that remains with them forever. Even when you don’t have any in stock, they still call and demand when you will be delivering,” said Steyn Khumalo who has been supplying chickens to his community for over 20 years in Sebokeng, South of Gauteng.
In borrowing Khumalo’s example, economic mobility seemed the final arbiter in separating a successful farmer from the rest.
According to the Economic Mobility Project, economic mobility is the “ability of someone to change their income or wealth. It is measured over generations or during one’s lifetime.” The wider community and society were seen as influencing and enabling it. A family that has sold chickens over the years to the same community clique or group invariably establishes economic ties or relationships and builds on it.
The beauty of informal markets is changing the narrative and acting more in communal sequence. Taxi operators are still in business even thou hackneyed by the inventions of uber and taxify apps. Amending or altering the economic mobility of an industry requires going back to old communal trading system i.e. delivering the product straight to the consumers door. They all eat and now order food via uber eats and Take a Lot.