Mpuma to establish fresh produce market

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mbombela - Mpumalanga is on a drive to build its own fresh produce market and boost its exports of fruits and vegetables to as far as Asia and the Middle East.

The provincial Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration will commission a feasibility study in the next two weeks.

"The fresh produce market will be built in August 2012, depending on the results of the feasibility study," said department spokesman Andre van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk said the feasibility study was expected to be finished within the next four months.

He said the study would look at current production in the province and the state of agricultural infrastructure.

The provincial government has indicated that more than 50 percent of Mpumalanga's population lives in rural areas and rely on natural resources for their livelihood.

The province also produces more than a quarter of the country's grain crops, bananas, citrus and sugarcane production.

"Despite this advantage, the province has not realised maximum gross geographical product from the industries linked to the agriculture sector as most of the agro-processing is happening outside the province," said Van Niekerk.

He admitted that the province lacked modern infrastructure to support the marketing and logistics of its agriculture sector.

Currently farmers have to travel to Gauteng to deliver fresh produce to organised, large commercial markets in Johannesburg and Pretoria. Other farmers deliver directly to big retail supermarkets or local hawkers and resellers.

Van Niekerk said the department had not yet decided where the market would be located, but that it could be at the Mpumalanga Kruger International Airport.

"Part of the justification for the airport was to increase the province's access to international markets," he explained.

He said the provincial government was also negotiating with the Middle East and South Asia countries in order to secure markets based on bilateral and multilateral agreements on agriculture.

"There is possible access to international markets, especially Oman, India and Indonesia with whom the provincial government has already established ties as well as France, Portugal and Spain.

"The Maputo Harbour is also seen as a high priority in order to ensure that local farmers receive the best market price for their produce," said Van Niekerk.

The African Farmers' Association of South Africa has welcomed the provincial government's plans.

The association's deputy secretary, Petrus Sithole, suggested, however, that the initiative be put in the hands of cooperative farmers as the provincial government did not have the capacity to run the initiative.

Head of the Mpumalanga Agriculture Union, Hennie Laas, also welcomed the initiative, but warned it would only work if farmers bought in to assist.