Cape Town — Every day, the food we eat connects us to a vast global network of farmers, traders, food manufacturers, retailers, and many others involved in bringing food from the farm to the table. Yet this global food system is a core part of some of the world’s biggest challenges.
The agriculture industry plays a crucial role in an economy – from the food we eat to the fabric we wear. It’s also an important source of livelihood for many people.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, there has been a significant decline in the number of farmers in South Africa, according to a report by the Competition Commission. It says that small-scale and emerging farmers were particularly hard hit by poor yields and low productivity, and struggled to grow their operations. Barriers include access to finance, infrastructure, and routes to market. At the same time, the report said that since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a global trend towards the localisation of farming and shorter supply chains where customers are increasingly buying local because of climate and environmental concerns, food safety, quality, and logistical considerations. Beyond the benefits for consumers, a trend towards local farming inevitably favours small-scale farming.
And for those who remained – particularly small-scale farmers – there are continuing challenges.
For example, during the country’s hard lockdown at the start of 2020, small-scale farmers were not regarded as an essential service, thus preventing them from accessing their farms until the government introduced permits. Some farmers were forced to leave part of their harvest to rot in the fields. This contributed to food insecurity, worsened poverty, and unemployment contributing to hunger and crime.
However, some farmers made changes to adjust to the new situation. Many began selling to street vendors, small business owners, and even direct selling in their communities. This confirmed the importance of these informal markets. Even though the number of informal traders increased exponentially due job losses small farmers were still able to sell their goods.
So why buy local?
In recent years, more people in Cape Town, South Africa, have started eating locally sourced food. While it is widely believed that eating locally sourced food is better for your health, there are many other benefits to consuming what’s grown or raised in our backyards.
Many believe food grown locally tastes better and lasts longer – and they have the peace of mind of knowing where their food comes from and how it was grown.
Some produce, especially fruits and vegetables, lose nutrients during transportation and storage, making local options usually more nutritious. Because smaller farmers don’t have the pressure to bulk supply, they can leave their food on the vine to ripen longer, giving you better quality for your money.
For instance, a farm in Philippi, about 30 minutes from Cape Town, delivers fresh produce to the city’s grocery stores and food markets every day. The Philippi Horticultural Area is a key food production hub for the city and here small-scale farmers typically sell their produce within 24 hours of picking it, whereas fruits and vegetables purchased through conglomerates will sit for weeks until there is enough to mass distribute.
Locally grown foods don’t have to travel long distances to reach you, so you’re actually improving air quality and reducing pollution. You’ll also notice that local food producers don’t have to vacuum pack and double-seal their goods so they remain fresh for as long as possible, hence less packaging helps reduce the amount of plastic we discard. Supporting local farmers who use sustainable practices also benefits the environment and helps reduce your carbon footprint.
Finally, for others, supporting community economies and fostering relationships is important. Small businesses benefit more from spending money locally rather than patronising large businesses that tend to prioritize profits over employees and customers. By doing this you create and maintain farming jobs in the local community, which allows the economy to thrive by creating a positive spending loop within the community.
Sophumla Ntoyabo, a small-scale organic farmer in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, says interpersonal connection is what makes business special. Having relationships with the local businesses and individuals helps them sell and their produce, resulting in them cutting losses. However, they still struggle to access or penetrate the local markets to their best potential. So to cut losses if markets don’t buy, they have adopted a model of not harvesting to sell – rather they now sell harvest that’s still on the ground. When a buyer wants it, they harvest it on that particular day.
But Inseason Mobile Market says some farmers lack consistency and variety. And some don’t produce vegetables that are not in season, which means infiltrating the big markets is hard. Even though demand is growing, the sector has been hard to break into for some investors. Inseason is dedicated to supporting wellness and making healthy eating accessible to everyone by offering fresh organic vegetables and delicious fruits – hand-picked, and sustainably produced by local farmers.
Why should we care about small farms?
Agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy and accounts for the majority of livelihoods across the continent. But climate change also puts farmers at risk.
A number of key risks to agriculture include reduced crop productivity associated with heat and drought stress, pest damage, disease damage, and flood impacts on food system infrastructure, leading to serious adverse effects on global food security and livelihoods. However, across Africa, a growing number of smallholder farmers are tapping into digital technologies to access information, services, and products to improve efficiency, boost crop yields and increase incomes.
More than 80% of the world’s 600 million farming households are smallholders who own less than two hectares of land, says the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Small-scale farmers have been identified as a sector that will drive economic growth, but the farmers lack financial support to run a profitable farm and the pandemic has worsened many of the existing challenges and inequalities of the global food system.
Disclaimer: Melody Chironda’s partner is a co-owner of InSeason Mobile Market