Categories: Vegetables

Restructuring the fresh-produce market

Depending on which side of the fence you are on, 13 August proved to be a watershed day in the fresh-produce market sector.

André Young, chairperson of the Ministerial Interim Committee (MIC), unfolded their report on the restructuring of fresh-produce markets in South Africa. “The objective of the MIC was to assist the agriculture department in unpacking the recommendations of the Section 7 Committee in preparation for implementation,” he said.

The original investigation, driven by the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), has been in the works since 1996 and saw roleplayers agree to a number of initiatives to improve our markets. In December 2008 the incumbent agriculture minister appointed the MIC to restructure markets in terms of ownership and management, the Agricultural Produce Agents Act, commission versus wholesale systems, transformation and infrastructure.

This was the umpteenth investigation into fresh-produce markets over the past 30 to 40 years, and had an air of secrecy about it. This created uneasiness among the fresh-produce sector and rumours ran rampant.

I know of at least two written requests to the chairperson to shed some light on what was happening, but the writers are still awaiting replies.A key to this report is the formation of a Fresh Produce Markets Development Agency (FPMDA) to oversee all fresh-produce markets and market agents. Of the many proposals, some will have far-reaching consequences, especially for market agents. The proposed structure will include all key stakeholders. But I have an inherent distrust of a structure that eventually can become a “control board”, centralising power and serving the whims of its political masters.

On paper these things sound good, but history shows they often they run off the rails. In the years leading up to 1994, centralised control was a common, even if government tried to hide these structures.
Now we’re headed down the same road. You only have to look at the objectives and proposed activities of the FPMDA, and if you know anything about our fresh-produce markets you’ll realise Big Brother is in the offing. The need to control and dictate inevitably becomes a feature of centralised control.

The other likely result of this development will be a decline into mediocrity, incompetence and poor administration. This report is more about what you don’t read than what you do read!   |fw

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