“Catastrophic and quite frustrating.” This is how struggling farmers are describing the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions on restaurants, hotels and schools leaving them with little to no buyers for more than half of their crops.
Integrated Aquaculture, an aquaponic farm in Gauteng that also produces leafy green vegetables, is on the brink of collapse.
Its managing director, Lance Quiding, tells Food For Mzansi, to him, it feels as if the restaurant and hotel industry no longer exists.
“[Lockdown] has had a catastrophic effect on. We have to dump produce every single week. We are certainly not selling what we are producing.”
Markets completely wiped out
Furthermore, Quiding explains the winter season is already a dry period for their market and Covid-19 has only exacerbated the situation.
“Restaurants are closed, buyers are staying away from the market and buying power of consumers seems to be dwindling. For a specialised farm like ours this has negative consequences.”
The restaurants that would normally BUY their fish are no longer ordering from him.
And on the vegetable side, it is pretty much the same thing, Quiding says.
“We would supply through various pack houses as well as through fresh produce markets. But the markets are not where it needs to be, and it’s a direct result of the restaurants and hotels being closed.”
Since the start, business owners have had to pivot and adapt in more ways than they could have ever imagined, but according to Quiding their mitigating strategies have not made much of a difference.
“We’ve tried implementing mitigation strategies. We are changing product lines and we do whatever we can to try and produce product that is desirable.
“We have products (grilly green, red batavia and cos lettuce) that we are not able to sell. So, we have to get rid of it. But before we discard it, we are offering it free to anyone willing to collect it from the farm.”
Innovate or die
Meanwhile, in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, hydroponics farmer Basil Williams says with restaurant markets in short supply, his business has seen a decrease in production and cash flow.
The owner of Herbal View Hydroponics tells Food For Mzansi he has been forced to decrease the salaries of workers.
“I had to restructure my business and start thinking innovatively. I decided to move my business online and started advertising and selling on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram as well as WhatsApp,” Williams says.
Since moving online, Herbal View Hydroponics has seen a significant growth from 5% to 25% with online sales.
“The pandemic just made me stronger in my business. It also taught me to be more innovative and introduce my new brands to the market.”