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Nine in 10 farmers still struggling with lockdown

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Source: Etienne van Wyk, Harvest SA, 18 May 2021, photo credit: Daily Maverick

It has been a long year for South Africa’s small and micro-farming community, the latest edition of the BeyondCovid Business Survey, conducted by specialist management consultancy Redflank, reveals. Released in March this year, the data shows that 63% of commercial agricultural companies and a mere 13% of emerging farmers are back to their pre-pandemic operational levels.

This concerning situation is rooted in emerging farmers’ already vulnerable position, says BeyondCovid co-founder Etienne van Wyk. “Small growers largely rely on sidewalk food stalls and fresh produce markets, as well as direct trade with corner shops, spaza stores, other SMMEs, schools, crèches, and NGOs. 

“When we went into hard lockdown, with all the restrictions, they lost access to those markets. Because they don’t have the financial buffers large companies have, they were hit severely and are still struggling.”

 “What doesn’t help is that many SMME off-takers of emerging farmers have been affected by the pandemic. The above-mentioned BeyondCovid Business Survey has revealed that 54% of all small businesses surveyed were still operating below capacity. “This impacts severely on emerging farmers, considering that SMMEs account for half their demand,” says van Wyk.

What makes the above-mentioned situation bitter-sweet, is that last year could have been an excellent farming year due to favourable weather conditions, sufficient rainfall, and the fact farming was hailed as one of the essential services. The situation is a major problem as this affects everyone, says Fay Mukaddam, BeyondCovid chairperson. 

“Emerging farmers, like other SMMEs, are important job creators, especially in rural and peri-urban areas where jobs are already scarce. When these ventures struggle, people struggle and with that the government’s social security network.”
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