Mzansi Agriculture Talk

Covid-19 Watch

DID COVID-19 ENFORCED THE USE OF 4TH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION TECHNIQUES? A NEW REALITY FOR THE SMALLHOLDER FARMERS IN SOUTH AFRICA

The world is facing one of its worst difficult time due to the current pandemic “Covid-19” which has forced an economic lockdown as a result of the policy measures taken across the world. Like all-natural outbreaks, COVID-19 does not differentiate between the rich and the poor, it attacks human beings. What makes the situation worse is the fact that there is no vaccine for it.

Covid -19 will, without any doubt, give pressure to the world food production, distribution and trade systems including in South Africa. Farmers who have their farming produce ready for the market are facing new compliance challenges, while many could be affected in terms of their sales turn over. Paradigm shifts are always triggered by something – the use of technology by smallholder farmers or those assisting them seem to be a new normal (Digital marketing strategies). Digital marketing could emerge as the deal breaker in helping the increase in smallholder farmer’s sales. Digital marketing is a broad marketing solution that include advertising or trading of goods and services through media platforms such as email, video advertising, display or mobile ads, and influencer marketing (radio and TV).

What has been the normal way of doing business? 

It is important to note that most of smallholder farmers have been able to trade their farm produce using informal channels, such as farm gate sales, mobile markets (vehicles and roadside containers), street vendors, and individual consumers around their communities. All these are strictly limited now presenting a huge challenge, however, some smallholder farmers have opportunities to trade their produce to commercial farmers, formal local super markets and having off-take agreements with local butchers (especially those in the livestock sector). It can be argued that farmers with own transport to distribute their produce, would have more opportunity to unlock markets at short and far distance. It is misfortune that most informal channels of sales may not be functional as normal after the lockdown levels of the Covid-19.

Digital marketing seems to be a solution

It can be argued that digital marketing could be a solution not only for current life but in preparation for the future which can be dominated by the 4th Industrial Revolution.  Through my observation, there has been an increase in formation of groups of different agricultural commodities on social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp, since the declaration of Covid-19 as a pandemic. Number of farmers have been advertising their produce through these media platforms, as a way to advertise their business products. 

Sales evidence through Facebook, Digital Zoom App and WhatsApp adverts 

  • Mr Phinudulo Ramabulana, a vegetables farmer in Dididi village of Vhembe District in the Limpopo Province has admitted that Facebook and WhatsApp platform have been instrumental in promoting his business. He sells Chinses cabbage “Brassica rapa subsp. Chinensis” “Mutshaina in Venda” once in a week (every Monday) generating about R2 200 from a home garden. In other words, Mr Ramabulana has ability to can generate approximately R11 000. He has been getting number of customers from social media. Mr Omphulusa Nyambeni, a poultry broiler smallholder farmer, has also pointed out that social media has been the best marketing platform and from 1 – 28 April 2020, he managed to generate at least R13 000 (of 175 chickens). He has been using his own bakkie to deliver chickens to local consumers in Tshapasha village, in Vhembe District, Limpopo.  
  • On 28 April, the National Red Meat Development Programme (NRMDP) held its first ever online video livestock auction sale in St Paul, Harry Gwala District, KZN. The AAM Cattle Agents and Auctioneers facilitated the auction through Digital Zoom App. The online auction went well. However, it needs time for both parties (buyers and sellers) to adopt and be friendly with the market channel. Moreover, buyers still need to understand the nature and the set-up arrangement of the sellers, said Dr Xolile Ngetu, programme Manager of the National Red Meat Development Programme (NRMDP). 

Challenge

Although digital marketing can be costly as the cost of data has been, the recent downward price adjustments on data are presenting a bit of relief on the cost of digital access (marketing). This provides farmers with an opportunity to find new ways of marketing their produce, especially during the times of Covid 19. However, some of the challenges that come with digital marketing include but not limited to having own or hiring distributing transport to those customers that are at far distance. Farmers must be technologically literate and those who are not familiar with social media must be adopt it urgently or be assisted to adopt it. Moreover, managing social media accounts for business requires a dedicated time to make follow-ups with your customers. 

Concluding remarks 

In today’s agriculture environment if there are two givens it can be argued that those are i) Technological change and ii) climate change. Technology is ever changing and farmers need to keep up or natural selection process will work their way out. Smallholder farmers could benefit through social digital marketing platform to advertise their farming produce. Elderly or technology literate farmers, need to be assisted to access services from influencer marketing channels such as community radio stations, and local newspapers that will assist them to advertise their farm produce.  The more the sector is dominated by youth, digital marketing will be the way forward and a country can succeed in time of pandemic risk year such as in 2020, where economic activities are threatened by Covid-19. Although advertising through Television can be costly, the broadcasters such as SABC and others, has a role to play in the marketing and promotion of the produce and enterprises of smallholder farmers.  The Living Land programme has been doing its best to communicate the successes about the agricultural sector in South Africa and if supported, it will be a best planform to advertise smallholder business to the public. With pandemic, organised structures such as commodity associations and government structures could do their best to promote online trading. 

Article by: Mr Elekanyani Nekhavhambe 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Mzansi Agriculture Talk or its members.

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