Are markets really the problem?

‘Anybody can deliver to a market at any time – be it one unit or thousands.’

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The ‘By Invitation’ by Glen Ashton, Change is needed to ensure food security, (Farmer’s Weekly 7 October) focused on a report by Prof Olivier de Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food.

I agree change is needed on many fronts if this country is to ensure future food supplies. But I want to focus on Prof De Schutter’s claim that “agricultural trading systems based around three centralised municipal markets and a tightly controlled grain market create almost insurmountable barriers to entry”.

I can’t comment on the grain market but I do wonder where Prof De Schutter got his information about our municipal markets. And which three was he referring to? We have 22 fresh produce commission markets in this country.

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I can only assume he meant Jo’burg, Tshwane and Cape Town. While Jo’burg is the dominant market, the rest still handle two-thirds of all produce sold by markets. Also, our markets are not centralised.

They operate within a given system but each is fully independent and the laws of supply and demand reign supreme. Some would like to see the markets centralised, but that’s another story. And the only “barriers to entry for our markets” are issues such as poor quality, making produce unsaleable, and logistical challenges.

Anybody can deliver to a market at any time – be it one unit or thousands, the market will handle the load. In fact, there probably is no more open system in the world. Barriers to entry are created more by government’s failure to address small-scale farmers’ needs and provide adequate support and infrastructure. And what does he mean by “agricultural trading systems”?

This conjures up a much wider picture involving all agricultural produce. The markets he seems to be referring to sell fresh produce so I don’t follow. Our unique method of trading fresh produce on our markets benefits both producers and consumers, important points he seems to have missed.

Yes, they need many serious improvements, but fresh produce markets are key players in South Africa’s food security.
I agree with Prof De Schutter that small-scale farmers need more support. Commentators have said so for years, but it must be done properly. I wonder where the Prof got all his information?

Email Mike Cordes at [email protected]