Helping black farmers go commercial

Vusi Mlambo, enterprise development manager at fresh produce agent, RSA Group, has for the past six years helped thousands of local emerging farmers gain access to markets. Luyolo Mkentane spoke to him.

Helping black farmers go commercial
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RSA has introduced a programme to help black developing farmers enter the market. Why the need?
When it comes to farming commercially, most black farmers are just starting. They don’t have information to help them become better commercial farmers, so we decided to take it to them through the programme.

What kind of advice do you give to these farmers?

I train them on soil preparation, the correct seeds to plant so that they can compete fairly on the market, when to harvest, how to package and class their produce, which kind of seeds are suitable in a particular season, and so on. I inform them about rules and regulations on the spraying of chemicals. I always stress that farming is not about subsistence; it’s a serious business that can become a major job creator, if the strings are pulled correctly.

When should farmers deliver to the market to ensure best prices for their produce?
Farmers must take cognisance of the fact that market prices are not fixed – they fluctuate. To get a good price means having a good programme. For example, if you farm butternut on 5ha, you must not plant the whole 5ha in one go. Rather plant around ½ha every two months. This will ensure consistency when supplying the market. Also, you will benefit if the price margins go up. It’s important to remember that the market works with an average price.

How do most emerging farmers deliver their produce to the markets?
Eish! Transport is a major problem for most emerging farmers. They tend to rely on public transport, but at the end of the day, their produce makes it to the market.

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What produce is currently in demand that you would recommend these emerging farmers to grow?
All fresh produce is in demand, but there’s a catch: the farmer must produce good quality. If the quality is poor, the product will be difficult to sell. Good quality equals a high price on the market.

Do you have social partners helping you with operational costs in running the programme?
We’re in partnership with a Dutch cooperative called Icco. They help finance the workshops we run where we bring some
emerging farmers from provinces such as Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal to the Joburg Fresh Produce Market in City Deep for a day to teach them how the market operates.

How many emerging farmers have you assisted since the inception of the programme six years ago, and how many are currently supplying the market?
I’ve helped more than a thousand, but I don’t know off the top of my head how many are supplying fresh produce to the market. I think 80% of them, I don’t have all the details but I know for a fact that they supply mostly green beans, butternut, spinach and baby marrows.

Phone Vusi Mlambo on 083 969 9100 or email [email protected].