Shaking things up at Mooketsi

Received wisdom says that for a fresh produce market to be successful, it must be located where the buyers are and not where the producers are. But a new market in Limpopo appears to be breaking the rules – successfully.

Shaking things up at Mooketsi
Buyers repack tomatoes from ZZ2 lugs into their own containers.
Photo: Mike Cordes

The Mooketsi Fresh Produce Market, situated on the R36 in Limpopo, opened its doors for business on 1 March. It is owned by Regional Market Management Services and is a joint venture between Farm Gate Exchange, the RSA Group and the ZZ2 farming group. In keeping with the format of all commission markets, the setup includes a market agency – RSA Mooketsi – which is wholly owned by Interaction Market Services Mooketsi.

READ:Botswana faces fresh produce shortage

On hearing that this fledgling market was already ‘pumping’, Farmer’s Weekly paid it a visit recently. The market started life more than 10 years ago as a ZZ2 roadside facility. Here the informal bakkie trade was offered the convenience of being able to pick up tomatoes on the Modjadji-Polokwane main road instead of having to drive to the farm’s packhouse several kilometres away.

The concept became so popular that buyers were soon streaming in from as far away as Botswana. This resulted in congestion around the building, with some buyers even sleeping there overnight in order to make their purchases early the next morning.

The newly opened market has addressed many of the shortcomings of the old facility by formalising its structures and offering a tried-and-tested model to both suppliers and buyers. To begin with, Mooketsi is registered as a fresh produce market, with payments made from RSA’s Johannesburg office. It has a market manager and a market agent, both with their support staff.

The facilities include two cold rooms and a 24-hour service for receiving and offloading deliveries. Purchases can be made from 6am to 12 noon. Supplies are sourced from ZZ2 and the surrounding area, and are set to increase as local producers enjoy the benefits of the market.

The latest Freshmark ‘Refresh’ IT system provides all the data needed by producers and market agency.
On the day Farmer’s Weekly was there, a crew started work on laying a floor for a new extension next to the main building. Judging by the amount of produce in evidence, the market is going to need all the floor space it can get.

A brisk trade
According to Rudi Venter, the resident RSA sales manager, the existing floor space provides 850m² of trading area, with 400m² due to be added in the near future, along with more cold rooms. Tomatoes, avocados and mangoes are delivered from the nearby ZZ2 packhouses in plastic lugs. After a purchase is made, the contents are transferred to the buyer’s own containers and the lugs are reused.

Other products such as onions and jumble pack apples are offered in their traditional containers. To reduce the element of risk that comes with handling large amounts of cash, buyers deposit money with the cashier, who issues each one with a buyer’s tag. This is ‘swiped’ at the paypoint with every purchase made.

Bakkies groaning under the weight of produce then set off for their destinations. This is Africa doing business. “On average, we sell between 80t and 100t of tomatoes a day, plus about 5t of onions, 3t to 4t of apples, and 3t to 4t of avocados,” says Rudi.

The traditional view – and even intuition – says that a market should be close to the buyers rather than the producers. Mooketsi is turning this theory on its head. “Many of our loyal buyers are now in their second generation of buying and this new development has improved things tremendously for them,” says Rudi. “Some have week jobs and Saturdays are when they can come to market, make their purchases and go out selling to earn extra income.
“Sleep-over customers used to be a problem simply because we weren’t geared up for that, but the new market has eliminated the need for them to get here the night before.”

High praise from customers
The buyers Farmer’s Weekly spoke to all praised Mooketsi, saying it provided an invaluable service for them. The management of ZZ2 is already looking to expand the market’s customer base. “The vast majority of our buyers are informal traders, but we’re getting ready to service larger retail buyers and others,” explains Rudi. Clive Garret, ZZ2’s marketing manager, says they have three other roadside stop-offs in Limpopo. Once the ‘Mooketsi model’ has proven itself, the concept could be rolled out to include these facilities.

Phone ZZ2 at 015 395 2040, or email [email protected]. Visit the website

This article was originally published in the 27 June 2014 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.