Fresh produce markets: how far we have come

I wrote my first column for Farmer’s Weekly 15 years ago and today I’m about to embark on #750.

Mike Cordes - Market Floor

Allow me to use this opportunity to reflect on the fresh produce market sector over that period.

  • Better produce 

Quality, the panacea of marketing ills, remains at the forefront of successful fresh produce marketing. In fact, it has become crucial in a highly competitive marketing environment. I believe that, overall, the quality of our produce has improved.

  • Politics

Government meddling is not a recent phenomenon; it was certainly around 15 years ago. Recommendations abounded, but very little was implemented. In most cases, all I can say is “Thank goodness”. Today, politics remains at the core of many problems facing the markets, mainly due to incompetence and hidden agendas in the municipalities.

  • Interest or interference?

I’ve also noticed a growing interest in markets from other groups, such as the Council of Traditional Leaders and the Regional Services Councils. This might be due to the failure of municipalities to manage markets properly. But I am wary of these bureaucratic structures; we need more competent managers, not more bureaucrats.

  • New markets

We’ve had a flurry of new markets from the Cape northwards. Many have closed as they were not in the right location. There are exceptions, but you usually build a market where there are buyers, not farmers. I’ve heard of some ambitious projects in the pipeline, but my question is, as usual: who is behind them, bureaucrats or hard-nosed business people?

  • Transformation

This has become visible at markets and market agencies. Some might cry, “Not enough”, but great strides have been made and the process is ongoing. Another positive development is Project Rebirth, an effort to arrest the decline of the markets. But to paraphrase Albert Einstein: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them!”

Michael Cordes is an agricultural journalist, consultant, trainer and former farmer.