Fruit and vegetables are not the first thing that comes to mind in national security discussions, but recent events proved just how important South Africa’s fresh produce markets actually are.
This is the view of Jaco Oosthuizen, chief executive of the RSA Group, which is the country’s largest fresh produce sales organisation.
The lessons for KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the rest of Mzansi are clear, Oosthuizen tells Food For Mzansi. “The Durban fresh produce market and the country’s other fresh produce markets are hidden national assets that dictate, to a significant degree, the state of national food security.”
In other words, what happens at the markets affects everyone, Oosthuizen believes.
Heartbeat of informal trade
According to Oosthuizen, the Fresh Produce Market in Durban was not part of the businesses looted during what President Cyril Ramaphosa described as “an attack on our democracy.”
As part of precautionary safety measures, the market was closed on Monday, 12 July as violence began to spread through the city.
The Durban market is a crucial component in the province’s food security network. Not only does it ensure that shops across the province have reliable access to fresh produce, but it is also the heartbeat of informal trade.
Oosthuizen says quick action allowed their team to get produce into cold storage where it could be monitored and temperature controlled remotely. ‘This was extremely important. Not only to protect our farmers’ interest, but also to ensure that there was stock to release as soon as the market was able to function again,” he explains.
The unrest, Oosthuizen points out, has shown just what a critical link in the food supply chain the market, as well as other markets are.
“In many ways, the state of our markets define the state of national food security. The Durban market services informal traders extensively, so to have this supply point cut off has effectively removed one the province’s major food distribution points.”
Surveys suggests that up to 70% of South African households currently access food from informal traders, says Oosthuizen.
Securing access to food
Meanwhile, the Durban market was reopened on Friday, 16 July 2021.
“Everyone was extremely quick and clear headed as the crisis broke, and now as we reopen, they are firm in their commitment to getting food to the people. Nothing is going to stop them,” Oosthuizen states.
Prices have remained fair despite a major imbalance between supply and demand. “The mission from everyone is clearly to do trade that will get food to the people who need it the most. As quickly as possible.”