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ProAgri Zambia 52

Cash is king, but our small-scale maize farmers are, in a strange way, a victim of that and it must stop.

In a normal, healthy society where the free market and demand and supply dictate our behaviour, it is genuinely delightful for a farmer if his market can walk up to his door and offer him cash for his produce. When the moisture content can be settled over a handshake instead of waiting for a lengthy period for the lab results, it is a match made in heaven.

Unfortunately, these briefcase buyers with all their benefits come with a price. They know how to drive a hard bargain and they know how to exercise leverage on the challenges facing our farmers. This is the time of the year when the household maize levels are low, and the cash levels are even lower. We need money and we do not know when the Food Reserve Agency is going to complete their lengthy bureaucratic processes before paying our money over to us.

A farmer wants to farm. He is neither a salesperson nor a negotiator. That is a worldwide phenomenon, even among large commercial farmers. Despite the fact that they own all these highly valuable and life-sustaining commodities, they are price takers. This is unacceptable.

Farmers need representation with the ability to drive a hard bargain, just like these shrewd businesspeople. One solution to this problem is for the farmers in a region to come together and form a powerful bargaining counsel. It can be an extension of the co-operation or even the union, but discipline and mutual trust are of the utmost importance. All the negotiations should go through the council and no individual backdoor sales are allowed as such sales will defy the purpose and will most definitely explode in the farmers’ faces.

Nobody can stop a briefcase buyer to come up to your farm gate waving a handful of cash. A free market in agriculture is far more important than anything else and the fewer regulations, the better for everyone. We can only mitigate this as we mitigate any other challenge on our farm. Or even better, we can use these briefcase buyers to solve our problems for us. That is the correct, proactive way.

This month we start with a brandnew series on compost making.

Farm smartly!

Du Preez de Villiers – dupreez@proagri.co.za

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