Markets and jobs

There’s been a lot of hype in the media recently about creating employment opportunities in SA. However, seldom is anything said about the role of agriculture in creating jobs.

Our sector might contribute less than 3% to the GDP but farmers employ over a million people and if you add on dependents, then the figure must be over 3 million beneficiaries. In case the politicians have forgotten, allow me to remind them, agriculture puts the food on their table.

This leads me to the role of markets in creating employment. The Late Bertie van Zyl, tomato king and agricultural leader, often said that markets are the cheapest form of job creation in the country. They do so without costing the government a single cent. This is how it works.

SA has 23 fresh produce markets and they all sell on the commission system. In other words, a market agent sells produce on behalf of a farmer. Access to a market is unrestricted for both producers and buyers. Anyone can enter a market and as long as they can pay, they are free to buy any quantity, from one unit upwards.

This same buyer can then take the product and offer the merchandise for sale at a bus stop, taxi rank or wherever there is a willing customer. Tomorrow they will be back at the market to buy more stock – hopefully two units. They’re in business! In time, they can expand their business to include a bakkie; providing a buying-and-delivery service for other informal traders and even employing a few people to help.

It hasn’t cost the government a cent and more than one guy is employed. This has to be a win-win situation for all. Does the government congratulate the markets? Does President Zuma announce government support for markets? Does the agriculture minister sing the praises of the sector and announce plans for the improvement of markets? Does she ever take the time to visit a fresh produce market to help her understand its vital role in our society.

No, they’re all too busy taking agriculture for granted. That corny but true refrain which says, “Don’t criticise a farmer with your mouth full”, still holds true. When will the politicians get the message?

Contact Mike Cordes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Market floor’ in the subject line of your email.