I’m not aware of any accurate statistics to support this contention, but even if that figure is not quite accurate, there is no denying that this period (and the years preceding) was the heyday of markets. Thereafter, their market share plummeted to an estimated 25%.
Supplying direct to supermarkets was one of the main causes. The indifference and ineptitude of market management was another. The saving grace for markets has been the steady increase in production from farmers, coupled with the vagaries of the weather, which have often pushed prices sky-high.
Recently, led by the Project Rebirth initiative launched a few years ago by the Institute of Market Agents of SA, the momentum of market revival is picking up. I am frequently told by market agents around the country how they are seeing farmers returning to the markets.
Some of these producers are disenchanted by the promises made to them by the supermarkets. They are finding out that supplying direct to a supermarket is not always what it is cracked up to be, so they are reverting to the old stalwart – the fresh produce market. I don’t want to create the impression that all is suddenly rosy with markets – far from it. But I can say with certainty that positive changes are taking place on many fronts, some hardly perceptible but real nonetheless.
Despite any perceived shortcomings with our markets, when the commission system or agency model is applied correctly, it works to the benefit of the farmer. This is one of the many contributing factors to the turnaround. If markets, market agents and producers build on the many benefits of the agency model, we shall see a revolution in fresh produce marketing, which will benefit both producers and the wider community.
And with market share now edging towards 30%, things are looking good!