Words and promises will not change the market access problems of smallholder farmers
By: Bonani Nyhodo
In some of the big commodity setup there is a trend of the formation of smallholder-oriented organisations to offer customised support to the sub-sector.
This is a manifestation of the persistence of the problem of smallholder farmers operation in the periphery not out of choice but because of institutional hiccups.
The wool industry is one organisation that looks at communal farmers interests and followed by the grain industry also. These organisations were not formed by disgruntled individuals but by representatives of those who are not yet under the umbrella in a rainy summer day.
Words and promises will not alone change the market access problems of smallholder farmers. Concerted efforts that recognise these farmers as farmers whose lands may not always fit the private land feature, nonetheless, they are farmers.
The market is big enough to accommodate these farmers – the Continent of Africa is a huge opportunity.
The government (at all levels) and all the parastatals play a key role in the survival of the commercial sector (multilateral, regional and bilateral agreements are agreements of governments on which private sector makes use of).
Government’s support to smallholder farmers with all the good intentions has not achieved its targets. The level of research diffusion through innovations that support smallholder farmers has not achieved what other countries such as India has done in developing smallholder friendly machinery.
As a buyer of food or agricultural products, government is a sizable market – not small at all. Smallholder farmers across the nine Provinces of South Africa including agricultural product groups (maybe with the exception of wool and mohair) complain of stringent requirements in accessing the formal value chains.
Our government with its equity approach, focuses primarily on these smallholder farmers and make all the necessary arrangements to address their issues including the market access problem – interestingly government market seems like a closed area. Nothing much is happening currently while government can make all the necessary adjustments to ensure that this market serves smallholder farmers.
In brief, government market is not proving to be a saver of these farmers. Some of the most obvious institutional markets include; public hospitals, prisons, school feeding programme, and defence.
No one will provide an answer with the greatest confidence if we were to be asked as to what proportion of government food market is serviced by smallholder farmers?
Could it be that, there is it lack of political will to address this matter? Perhaps, the administrative setup side-line smallholder farmers from supplying government market? Let me leave this for a discussion by the readers. With all that said, in addressing the issue of market access for smallholder farmers – institutional markets are sacrosanct.
This an edited version from the topic delivered by Mr Bonani Nyhodo titled; The plight of smallholder farmers in South Africa’s market environment: will it ever change under the current setup?