Food security: Cities must set up markets for small-scale farmers and traders, study urges

Andisiwe Makinana Political correspondent
The government needs to cut red tape and reduce bureaucracy, and bring legislation up to date. Stock photo.
The government needs to cut red tape and reduce bureaucracy, and bring legislation up to date. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/amenic181

Local governments must take a more proactive role in supporting small-scale food traders and producers, particularly in towns and cities.

They must also use the post-unrest recovery as an opportunity to prioritise space for local public food markets with infrastructure for traders and end the harassment of informal traders.

This is according to experts who this week published research findings on how Covid-19 affected the food system in SA, especially for women small-scale farmers and traders.

The study was published just days before Monday's local government elections and just months after the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The research led by the UWC's Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas), which investigated the impact of Covid-19 regulations and mitigation measures on factors in SA’s food system found that Covid-19 regulations affected different parts of the food system unevenly, with negative outcomes for low-income producers, traders and consumers.

The research focused on fresh produce in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and fish in the Western Cape.

Researchers say they conducted 211 in-depth interviews, facilitated the production of 24 food diaries and visited 16 primary field sites.

Other key findings were that despite the supply and sale of food being declared an “essential service” and exempted from certain lockdown regulations, vast sections of the informal sector were closed under the restrictions imposed by the government from March 2020.

  • A key effect of the regulatory response was to protect and insulate commercial farming and corporate-owned businesses, they found.

  • The study found that the pandemic response presupposed that salaried workers would stay at home while business owners would obtain business relief – a presumption that ignored the actual experiences of those making a living in the informal sector, including food producers and traders. This led to vast unintended but foreseeable consequences in the form of unsellable surpluses, food wastage and lost incomes.

  • The study also found that Covid-19 regulatory responses had the effect of reinforcing inequalities within the food system, with women in the informal sector being the most marginalised at the same time that they had to ensure household food provisioning and care for children during school closures.

  • While mitigation measures were welcomed, they were too little, too late, failed to meet the most urgent needs and were poorly targeted, except in the case of social grants, they found.

Experts are recommending that local governments should use their powers to create spaces within cities and towns where those who grow food can sell it, and those who want to buy it can do so.

Local government is the sphere of the state with the mandate and authority to shape urban food systems,” said Plaas' Prof Ruth Hall.

It can and should use its powers to create spaces within the city where those who grow food can sell it and those who want to buy it can do so. Alternatives to corporate-owned food retail must be actively supported,” she said.

The experts are recommending local governments not automatically grant planning permission for the rebuilding of supermarkets and shopping malls destroyed during the unrest which erupted in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal in July.

Rather, work with small farmers, bakkie traders and street traders to identify spaces for food hubs in cities where food markets, especially for fresh produce, can expand,” said Hall.

She said councils should use regulatory powers to halt the rebuilding of malls and supermarkets affected by the unrest and consult widely on alternatives that prioritise the interests of low-income producers, traders and buyers.

  • They should also stop harassing street traders, confiscating their goods and creating legal and bureaucratic impediments to their businesses.

  • Create food hubs and markets to attract buyers and their purchasing power away from corporate-owned food retailers. Promote these small-farmer and street-trader spaces in the cities instead of rebuilding the supermarkets destroyed during the unrest in July 2021.

  • Create a regulatory and planning space to support street trading. This could be done by prioritising the identification of well-located sites including where shops were destroyed during the unrest, for the creation of safe, public spaces for food markets for street traders.

  • Provide infrastructure at these sites for the expansion of food markets, including by providing reticulation and storage and refrigeration facilities which are crucial for greengrocers and fishmongers.

  • Introduce and leverage municipal regulations to shift the flow of food and money in cities towards markets where people who grow food can sell it, particularly in those provinces with a concentration of black farmers, such as Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal; and

  • Regularise the requirements for trading permits and licences, and use these as a basis for providing emergency relief. “It is discriminatory to impose licensing requirements and then not use these as a basis for providing relief,” said Hall.

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