5 September 2012

South Africa: Target Local Markets, Smallholder Farmers Told

Cape Town — Farmers who grow food on smallholdings should target local, informal markets to sell their produce, a conference on strategies to overcome poverty and inequality in South Africa has heard.

"Current initiatives when it comes to integrating farmers to markets have been looking at the mainstream markets, which are your supermarkets and your agro-processors, but have forgotten about the markets that exist locally," according to Davison Chikazunga of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)  at the University of the Western Cape.

Selling to their neighbours reduced farmers' transport and storage costs, Chikazunga said. Moreover, local markets were less demanding in their requirements for quality, scale and quantity than, for example, big supermarkets.

A session at the conference dealing with smallholder and agrarian reform brought to the fore an ongoing debate on farming methods, financing and market opportunities.

Agriculture has been earmarked as a key sector for economic growth by South Africa's  National Planning Commission, according to Ben Cousins of PLAAS.

Government hopes to create one million new jobs for smallholder farmers by focusing on expanded irrigation and labour-intensive initiatives, but faces competition for water from other economic sectors such as mining, Cousins noted.

The term smallholder farmer was itself an issue of debate and it was noted that it referred to a range of people, from subsistence farmers to small-scale commercial operators.

Chikazunga also noted that communications initiatives are employed with great success by government in East Africa, but South Africa lags behind due to the country's reliance on market-driven mechanisms to address farmers' needs.

"Farming is not an easy thing to make a living from," Cousins said. But government policy has taken a fresh look at the sector because it's a cheaper way of creating jobs.

The conference is entitled "Towards Carnegie III: Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality". Two earlier conferences and research programmes, looking at similar issues in the 1930 and 1980s, were funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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