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Throwing food away – Small-scale farmers cannot send their vegetables to informal sector

The Witness

21 May 2020

ESTELLE SINKINS • estelle.sinkins@witness.co.za

SMALL-SCALE farmers could be compelled to throw produce away as millions of people across the country face the possibility of starvation.

Producers who would normally provide vegetables for spaza shops, market stalls and other vendors in the informal sector can no longer do so under the lockdown regulations.

Nkanyiso Gumede, from PLAAS (the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies), said: “Instead of being able to sell their produce they are sitting with the produce. They can’t sell to informal traders and some who supply bed and breakfasts and restaurants have lost that market. They don’t know what to do with it.”

PLAAS believes the Department of Agriculture and Land Reform should have stepped up and made arrangements to buy the vegetables and other produce.

“They could have brought everything to a central point and then distributed to those in need,” Gumede said.

“I also believe supermarkets should be doing more to buy from small-scale farmers and their produce could be labelled as such if they are worried about safety standards.”

Pertunia Setumo, an agricultural economist at FNB Agri-Business, said the impact of the lockdown would exert further pressure on small-scale farmers, who were already struggling with rising input costs, limited market access, limited pricing power, critical agriculture and business skills and more.

There are currently around 200 000 small-scale farmers in SA, but when the Agriculture Department announced who had received access to relief funding, from the 55 000 applications received, only 15 000 were chosen to be assisted.

“Most of our small-scale farmers are not getting any help from the government. Most didn’t know if they were an essential service or not, or if they had to get permits to be able to travel to sell their goods,” said Gumede.

“That problem was made worse because a lot of their suppliers were closed.

“It’s led to a loss of employment in some cases because the farmers couldn’t afford to pay their workers.

“The government has to do more. They need to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to farmers and their workers.

“They need to allow suppliers to operate and most of all they need to give the sector a big cash injection.”

Setumo, meanwhile, believes that those in the sector who will be hit will include small-scale wine and spirit producers and beer brewers who have been unable to make or sell anything since March 27.

Those who breed and sell livestock could see the demand for meat drop because some consumers may not be getting their full salaries while others may have no income at all.

The poultry market is another area of concern as keeping birds on farms for longer than eight weeks starts to eat into a producer’s profits.

The Democratic Alliance has criticised the government’s agricultural relief scheme, especially because only 28% of small-scale farmers qualified for help. Thandeka Mbabama, deputy shadow minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, said the department had to re-open the application process and ensure that effective plans were in place to assist people to qualify for funding.

The DA also wants relief applications opened to medium-scale farmers who have a turnover of up to R100 million per year.