Small-scale farmers, street traders and fisheries have endured substantial financial losses under the yoke of Covid-19, which were exacerbated by the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng in July this year.
New research produced by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape found that this deprived low-earning consumers of a crucial source of cheap, nutritious food and left many small-scale farmers, fisheries and informal traders without any source of income.
On the flipside, large corporate food producers and retailers reaped profits with support from government while support to small-scale farmers was either non-existent or late. Informal traders received no support at all.
Itumeleng Lekomanyane, a street vendor and the owner of Sandwich Nton Nton, a small business located in the Johannesburg taxi rank, is one of the traders who have not received assistance from either government or civil organisations since the lockdown started, or during the unrest.
He explains that he had applied for funding from government’s National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) more than a year ago, but he has not received any funding despite his application having been approved.
“I don’t think government or the NYDA takes street traders seriously, because I see the NYDA has supported some businesses but no support was given to street traders.
“I used to open up franchises in different areas in the city and I had to close them down and jobs were lost. The Metro police confiscating stuff also exacerbated that issue and the business has not been doing well since. So, we are trying to rebrand and formalise our business more, because trading in the informal market is not working for us anymore,” he says.
Governments should provide infrastructure, support
Speaking at a press conference held by the institute, Professor Ruth Hall urged government to prioritise local public food markets in towns and cities. Furthermore, authorities should provide the infrastructure for small-scale producers and traders to store and sell their goods safely and in ways that enable them to compete adequately with the corporate sector.
She also recommended that government respond to crime in the informal sector with the same energy as they would in the corporate sector, and provide permits and financial relief to informal sectors when tragedies such as Covid-19 and the unrest hit the country.
In the wake of the unrest, for instance, trade permits were not considered as a basis for business relief, once again rating small farmers and informal traders inferior to commercial producers and formal businesses.
Nkosinathi Manamela, a small-scale farmer from Dutya in the Eastern Cape, agrees with Hall. Throughout the pandemic, he has not received any support or relief, yet retailers and other farmers did.
“There were some farmers who were assisted by government, but I was never assisted by the government throughout the course of the lockdown. The government would approach big retailers such as Pick n Pay to supply them with food to make food parcels, but they never approached us small-scale farmers.
“The only thing government did was give farmers vouchers, but sometimes the vouchers came too late, or sometimes farmers didn’t receive them at all. Like myself – I have been waiting for a feed voucher for pigs since last year but up until today, I have not received any voucher.”
Appropriate relief measures should be developed
Hall’s recommendation is that crisis-resilient food stations be built in cities. Also, that immediate cash transfers be utilised when giving farmers funding, as opposed to the timely application processes.
“Giving farmers input vouchers six to nine months after the hard lockdown simply was inappropriate – the wrong support and too late.”
A cash solution will be especially important where it would put money in the hands of low-income women, who predominate in many of these sectors, she believes.
Finally, Hall says the state has to play a “buyer of last resort” role when people are sitting with surpluses. She proposed that the state buy from small-scale producers in times of crisis, something which wasn’t seen during the pandemic or the unrest.
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