Keeping producers producing

Agricultural economist Dr Koos Coetzee wrote about the local market’s importance (Global Farming column, 5 November). Some points have a bearing on fresh produce suppliers.

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“The shift in population dynamics is important for food producers,” said Dr Coetzee. “As people move towards higher income groups, they change from largely starch-based diets to more protein-based diets.” Fresh produce producers know they supply the healthiest products in the world, and that catering for balanced diets is one their strengths.

The potato industry knows this. A large part of its promotional activities focuses on informing consumers of the many health benefits of potatoes. They offer a lot more than just starch. Producers would do well to keep their eyes fixed on consumer trends.

“Before 2007, food security depended on the ability to buy food from a country that produced a surplus. When the food crisis hit in 2008, countries rushed to limit exports,” said Dr Coetzee.There are many examples of countries that found themselves in crisis because they relied on others for the bulk of certain food supplies. Ad hoc crises in different countries are becoming far too frequent. The future implications of this trend should have every politician lying awake at night.

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We have our own challenges in a country that’s labelled the 27th driest in the world, with largely unfavourable farming conditions, an expanding population, and political challenges that impact directly on agricultural production. A wise government would do all in its power to keep all producers in production.

Politics shouldn’t take precedence over food security. The fresh produce sector must take marketing and distributing challenges seriously. The Fresh Produce Market’s current proposal for a development agency has little chance of addressing these challenges.

“Without government support in terms of trade and other measures, we can easily become a nett food importer at import parity price levels far higher than the prices consumers are used to,” warned Dr Coetzee. Fruit and veggies aren’t much affected by imports, but it may not always stay this way.

Fresh produce farmers must be encouraged and supported by meaningful policies focused on producing and marketing top-grade produce for local and export destinations. If we sacrifice our fresh produce production on the altar of politics above national food interests, we could be in for a torrid time.

Mike Cordes (e-mail [email protected]).