Can the fresh produce markets survive?

In the 1940s, there were about 135 fresh produce markets scattered around South Africa. Almost every dorp had a market.

With improved roads, farmers and buyers could travel further afield to reach the larger urban markets, which offered more variety.
Today, there are only 24 markets in the country, some small and other very large. But the practice of bypassing the smaller markets and focusing on the larger ones continues apace. Another challenge faced by local fresh produce markets is that supermarkets and other major buyers tend to buy as much of their produce as possible directly from farmers.

No simple answer

Despite this, markets still reflected a turnover of almost R14 billion in their last financial year. But given the state of modern fresh produce marketing, the question is, can the smaller markets survive?

There is no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Some of the smaller municipal markets clearly do not have a bright future. In general, they are not supported by their local councils, and unless some serious ‘repair work’ is done they will continue down the slippery slope to oblivion.

On the other hand, there are one or two privately owned markets that are surviving and even growing. Some, like the George Market in the south-western Cape, are strategically located and should flourish in the years ahead. The recent launch of two regional markets in Limpopo – one near Polokwane and one at Mooketsi – injects another dynamic into the marketing mix. Both are doing well and look set to go from strength to strength.

Going full circle?
Can this model be repeated successfully elsewhere? And if so, does that mean the wheel is turning full circle and we’re going back to the heydays of 70 years ago? It’s unlikely that we’ll reach 135 markets again, but we might see a clutch of these regional markets opening in strategic areas.

Markets have been with mankind since the dawn of time and I have no doubt they will be around for many years yet, but we must expect them to change as circumstances dictate.