Business is booming at some of South Africa’s regional fresh produce markets, as South Africans take advantage of the opportunity for direct, cost effective access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Both our RSA Vaal and RSA Nelspruit operations surpassed their monthly sales record on 21 April, with eight trading days still to go,” says Luan Wentzel, managing director RSA Tshwane and RSA Regional Markets. “Current estimates also indicate that Polokwane will surpass its April record by at least 10% at month end. Mooketsi isn’t in line for a record but is performing at similar levels to last year.”

South Africa’s fresh produce markets generally operate in the background of the national food supply system. However, since the lockdown they have seen an influx of private buyers in addition to retail buyers and members of the country’s vast network of informal traders.

“Numbers are almost impossible to define, especially because lots of different groups pool resources for group buying, but the feedback from our agents clearly shows that there has been a substantial increase in the number of people buying for personal use compared to before the lockdown,” says Wentzel.  

Flexibility of local fresh produce markets

Growth in the number of private buyers illustrates the flexibility of South Africa’s fresh produce markets, which not only form a crucial part of the national food supply chain, but which also offer a valuable alternative to people who live far away from supermarkets or who no longer have access to street hawkers and informal traders.

“Supply is strong, and our farmers are producing well, but there is no doubt that certain parts of the country are challenged in terms of access to food and fresh produce,” says Wentzel. “The markets are performing a crucial function in this context, and RSA Group is doing everything it can do make sure all buyers have the support they need.”

Ensuring the health and safety of traders

RSA Group is the largest fresh produce sales agency in the country. Decades of experience operating at South Africa’s fresh produce markets means it is an ideal position to support newcomers to the system.

The company is currently helping buyers who ask for assistance to obtain the permits they need to officially procure and transport produce during lockdown. RSA Group has also collaborated with Freshlinq (which manages the regional markets and their data systems) to implement the access control and social distancing measures necessary to ensure the safest possible environment for buyers and traders on the floor.

“A strong health and safety approach creates trust in the system and processes and makes the facility easy to use. This is very important in the context of the pandemic,” says Wentzel. “The new visitor’s experience features thorough safety protocols throughout, which creates a sense of security and sees more buyers arriving to purchase fresh produce at the facility.”

Core safety measures at the country’s regional fresh produce markets include:

  • Access control at facility gates: Only a certain number of vehicles are allowed into the market at one time. This limits close contact queuing and allows buyers to wait, isolated in their vehicles.
  • Access control at market hall entrances: Market hall entrances are access controlled, and a limited number of buyers, agents and officials are allowed in the hall at any one time.
  • Sanitiser: All buyer’s hands are sanitised upon entrance to the market hall and sanitiser is freely available throughout the market.
  • Social distancing floor marking: Market floors feature clear signage to help participants maintain the right distances from each other.
  • PPE for market personnel: Everyone working at the markets is provided with face masks and gloves.
  • Sterilisation: All work surfaces are sterilised on a regular basis.
  • Product handling: Product displays are positioned to eliminate product handling by buyers.
  • Buyer queues: Trading processes have been structured to limit buyer queues at every transaction point. – Press release, RSA Group