Thanks to the recent Ministerial Interim Committee (MIC) report on the restructuring of fresh-produce markets, we have at last public acknowledgement that our markets need serious upgrading. But we’ll conveniently forget that the industry has been saying this for the past 20 years.
The original National Agricultural Marketing Council report talked about a R2,3 billion backlog for infrastructure development and the new Fresh Produce Markets Development Agency (FPMDA) will probably ask government for R2,7 billion to address the issue. This is good news.But by the time the cash arrives, markets will be even further down the road of degradation.
The MIC report is still supposed to enjoy some public debate. After that it needs the minister’s signature, and then the real process begins. This includes amending or scrapping laws, setting up a head office, appointing management and staff, and then at some stage getting around to doing a detailed study of the requirements of each market, getting approval, and asking government for the money. How long will this process take?
Nobody knows, but experience tells us not to hold our collective breath.The 13 markets (out of 23) currently under political control are mostly pathetic. Can the FPMDA do it any better? If past experience is our guide, then it’s safe to assume the FPMDA will be another bureaucratic monolith run by devotees who have little knowledge of fresh-produce markets. Is that how you ensure food security for the nation?
If you think I’m being harsh, take a look at the members of the MIC. What knowledge do they have of fresh-produce markets? Don’t tell me most of them weren’t appointed for their “political allegiance”.
I see three previously disadvantaged farmers, which is great, but not one commercial farmer, market agent or buyer on the panel. The latter three account for most of a turnover exceeding R8 billion a year – and they don’t even have a say! Market managements don’t make the turnover – that’s down to farmers, market agents and buyers. Who says this MIC thing isn’t political?