The Agricultural Produce Agents Council (APAC), an agency that regulates the fresh produce markets, has put blame on municipal failures in supporting small fresh produce markets.
“Municipalities were not doing their part to plough back five percent of the revenue generated from these markets for the maintenance and development of the fresh produce markets,” said APAC Registrar Francois Knowles when he appeared before parliament’s portfolio committee on agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD).
South Africa, according to DALRRD, had 23 operating national fresh produce markets (NFPM), the largest being Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town and Durban markets jointly producing R17 billon in turnover. Medium markets were located in Springs, Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg, Port Elizabeth and East London, which had combined turnovers of 12%.
Smaller markets such as Mthatha, Witbank, eMalahleni, Sol Plaatjie and Welkom had a 6% market share and received little to no attention in terms of maintaining facilities.
According to APAC, this struck a blow to smallholder farmers who depended on these markets for income and sustenance. Knowles said these small markets required money from municipalities for the purposes of ensuring staffing, adequate security so that farmers do not leave their produce to be sold, maintaining hygiene levels (which were currently poor) and putting in place management of the market.
Sadly, there was no legislation that governed the markets as municipalities set and formulated its own by-laws.
The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development called upon the the intervention and assistance of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
Calling for the aid of local government was a wanton exercise. In 2020, DALRRD during lockdowns had ringfenced R750 million to smallholder and subsistence farmers to boost their production. This was to cascade to district and local municipalities with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) expected to monitor the distribution of inputs to identified farmers and provide feedback.
Of the 234 municipalities under SALGA membership, only 20 achieved unqualified audits with 31% of municipalities financially vulnerable.
Knowles said the entry of new smallholder farmers was difficult in large fresh produce markets and municipalities provided an alternative solution which could bring farmers closer to the communities.
With the state of municipalities, DALRRD was to lead an incubation programme to revitalise small fresh produce markets.