Although smallholders are crucial to Mzansi’s food security, accessing the market can be an incredibly difficult feat for these producers. Farmers share their best tips and advice on how to limit barriers to market access.
Smallholder farmers are an integral part of Mzansi’s food security landscape. In this 2014 report by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, the department underlined how crucial smaller producers are and the many benefits supporting these producers can yield.
“Support to smallholder producers is necessary to ensure food security, full utilisation of resources, land being one of the critical ones, [and] job creation,” the report reads.
It also highlights the immense potential smallholders hold to enhance economic opportunities in the agricultural sector.
“There is evidence to suggest that this is an area in which there remains much-untapped potential to create economic opportunities, especially in rural areas where poverty is concentrated.”
In another report by the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), experts found that smallholder farmers face a series of barriers preventing them from accessing the market. These barriers range from issues around management to small production quantities, to low produce quality, lack of suitable storage facilities, and little value addition to their products.
These issues limit smallholders regardless of industry. We spoke to four farmers from various industries to give us their best tips for accessing the market.
Take a ‘market first’ approach
Daisy Moleko, Mzansi’s only woman commercial farmer in the rabbit industry, urges new farmers to identify their market before they start farming. She says farmers need to ask themselves who is going to consume or use their product once harvest or slaughter time comes around.
“My piece of advice will be just to check out your market, and ask who your buyers will be. After getting to know your buyers, you can then start planting or you can start farming your livestock. It’s of no use to start farming without knowing who you’re [selling to]. And it’s easy to access the market when you know your product and [when] you know your market.”
Jo-andra Gregory Cloete, a poultry farmer from the Western Cape, agrees. She says farmers need to acquaint themselves fully with their industries in order to sell their products successfully.
“Knowledge is power. Equip yourself with knowledge before you venture into agriculture. Basically, if you don’t live the lifestyle, you won’t be able to make a living from it.”
Ensure that your product is of good quality
Jacques Terblanche from Graceland Garlic, says that quality is also an important aspect of market access. “A good quality product always sells, which means you have to start correctly. You have to start with good quality seed.”
As a seed producer, Terblanche knows firsthand that quality is grown from the beginning. He explains that smallholders should invest in good seed in order to maximise their production.
“You cannot get a good quality crop from compromised seed. Also, make sure that you follow an approved fertilising and folio programme. To produce good quality food, you have to take samples from the soil, the bulb, and leaves from time to time and test them if you are unsure. Be vigilant against insects and fungus, because of course, early detection is always better.”
Micro-economies are just as important
For Byron Booysen, changing his outlook on what qualified as market success was important. He says when he started farming, accessing the bigger retail or commercial market was considered to be the ultimate goal. Now, he feels differently.
“I have found the opposite to be true. Prices [for food] are extremely competitive and high at the moment, but access to food is crucial. So as smallholder farmers, we [always] have the ability to establish a market where people want to buy food.”
Booysen says farmers need to be open-minded about who they sell to. He explains that selling to the entrepreneur with a bakkie who needs 500kg of produce, could work out to be just as viable as selling to a bigger retailer.
“At this stage, we need to be able to create those types of markets where, if you do not have enough produce from your side, you’re also able to buy from other smaller farmers. The risk side of it is that you do not have an established price, and you don’t have the ability to be able to produce volume, but in the same breath, you’ll be able to sell goods when you have established your relationship with the market.”
The upside of selling in micro-economies, Booysen says, is that it improves your immediate community. He explains that smallholders who can give their market what they want on demand are actively contributing to their own circular economies.
“We will then be able to keep more money in the communities. We will be able to feed more people and we’ll be able to make sure that access to food is not relying only on retailers who determine the price and volumes that are available to people.
“So my advice to any small farmer out there who is just beginning is to create a market for themselves and not to think that it is impossible because of all of those hoops you need to jump through for big retailers.”
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