Viability of proposed Mpumalanga fresh produce market questioned

Concerns have surfaced in Mpumalanga that a planned large, formal fresh produce market will turn into a white elephant as has happened to similar markets elsewhere in the country.

Concerns have surfaced in Mpumalanga that a planned large, formal fresh produce market will turn into a white elephant as has happened to similar markets elsewhere in the country.

Fresh produce growers in Mpumalanga believe that the province’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration (MP DARDLA) needs to conduct detailed consultations with stakeholders at all stages of the region’s fresh produce value chain before going ahead with plans to develop the market.

Derek Donkin, CEO of the SA Subtropical Fruit Growers’ Association, said that the government had proposed a similar market for Limpopo’s Tzaneen area and it had never materialised. Another market had been developed in Limpopo’s Polokwane area and Donkin was unsure if this was even functioning properly.

Asked for his comments on the proposed Mpumalanga market, Donkin said: “This is the first time that I’ve heard of it. I think that whoever wants this market built must first do a proper viability study. There’s also very little reason why informal fresh produce traders would stop buying directly from farmers for less than they would be paying to market agents.”

Attempts by Farmer’s Weekly to obtain clarity on the proposed Mpumalanga market from the MP DARDLA appeared to have been ignored. However, the African Eye News Service (AENS) reported that a feasibility study into the proposed market would be commissioned this month and that it was planned to have the market built by August next year.

The AENS also quoted MP DARDLA spokesman, André van Niekerk, as saying that the Mpumalanga market would do away with the need for the province’s fresh produce growers to deliver their products to Gauteng markets. If the market was situated near Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, fresh produce could be air-freighted to international markets in Asia and the Middle East, or shipped from nearby Maputo harbour in Mozambique.

Jason Moonsamy, senior manager for business services and systems control at the Durban Fresh Produce Market in KwaZulu-Natal, said that he too had seen regional fresh produce markets failing or running uneconomically due to improperly carried out feasibility studies.

An example was the Ugu fresh produce market on the South Coast, which is no longer functioning. “If the Mpumalanga market does not have enough demand from buyers, then it won’t work,” Moonsamy explained. “I’d also be interested to know if Mpumalanga has a sufficient range of products to draw buyers away from the markets they currently use.

“Buyers prefer markets where they can buy everything they need in one go.” – Lloyd Phillips