A valuable asset

I was most interested in Peter Mashala’s article (27 July, pg 58) about his recent trip with minister of agriculture Tina Joemat-Pettersson and others on a fact-finding junket to Costa Rica, courtesy of Walmart.

They were there to look at examples of Walmart’s ‘direct farming’ revolution and to see if it can be applied in South Africa.
And it seems the minister was very impressed, saying: “It’s exactly what we are looking for to go with government initiatives directed at assisting smallholder farmers.”

The initiative is certainly impressive and goes a long way to addressing many problems faced by our small-scale farmers. Walmart is pumping serious money into its ‘Direct Farm’ model which indicates its seriousness in getting its South African operation up and running. What I like is that it seems to be addressing the farmers’ needs, starting with the basics. It is essential to lay the foundations first before adding on the rest.

I wish them well, but I hope they realise that farming in South Africa isn’t farming in Costa Rica. There will definitely be similarities – and much can be learnt from those small-scale Costa Rican farmers – but there are also unique local challenges that need to be faced as well. The model promulgated by Walmart only teaches our farmers one way of marketing their fresh produce – the way that suits Walmart.

I suppose when you’re paying you can call the shots! But farmers have six other options when it comes to marketing their fresh produce. I’m not against supplying direct to supermarkets, but it shouldn’t be a farmer’s only option. As a ‘market man’ I know a farmer can ultimately do better through the market than any other – if he uses it correctly. I’ve never heard of Joemat-Pettersson visiting our markets, or saying anything positive about this option. Does she know anything about our markets system?

She should, because it’s a viable and valuable option for small-scale farmers. Is there an organisation out there which will put up the funds, lay on a trip for the minister – not forgetting her senior officials – and show her the valuable asset she has on her own doorstep?

Contact Mike Cordes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Market floor’ in the subject line of your email.