By Khulile Thwala
Local farmers, especially those specialising in horticulture, are failing to break into the local markets due to poor-quality produce.
So severe is the situation that the National Agriculture Marketing Board (NAMBoard) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Bhekizwe Maziya recently expressed dismay at the board having to reject substantial volumes of produce from local farmers.
Maziya says it is not their intention to periodically reject produce from local farmers, however, most of the produce did not meet market standards and is, therefore, not safe for consumers.
Worth noting is that in the future, formal markets both local and international will not take produce from farmers who are not certified and not complying with quality standards.
To address the issue of poor-quality produce, the NAMBoard hosted a horticulture innovation platform specifically focusing on improving the quality of produce from local farmers and further concentrating on the benefits of compliance with international standards.
“NAMBoard benefits nothing from the rejections. Instead, it is a cost for us to collect farmers’ produce from far areas and only discovers upon quality inspections that it is not of good quality,” he said.
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Maziya went on to say that the local markets also have quality expectations of the produce and they do not settle for less. It is for this reason that we have to reject produce that does not meet the quality standards,” said the NAMBoard CEO.
Local farmer MfanzileDlamini of Buhleniwho has been under NAMBoard for three years, said climate change is one of the main let-downs in the attainment of quality produce by farmers. He said extreme weather patterns have a negative impact and lower the chance of survival of crops.
“This is a huge struggle for farmers, more especially those who are not as experienced. Some farmers are also farming on land which belongs to their forefathers and not them, hence there is difficulty in accessing financing,” said the farmer.
He said another challenge farmers are faced with was the bad roads they used to transport their produce.
“You find that it takes days for the produce to reach its destination due to the roads, especially on rainy days. This results in the produce getting spoilt,” said the farmer.
Another factor he attributed to bad produce was that farmers work in silos, which he said reduces the opportunity for farmers to acquire the technical know-how in farming.
During the innovation platform, which took place on March 9, 2023, horticulture farmers were capacitated on how to ensure good quality produce. The factors which contribute to good produce were said to be good planning, proper soil analysis, health capital, and a proper financial budget, among others.
Over and above that, NAMBoard advised farmers against adhering to quality standards only for export markets, stressing that emaSwati also deserve to eat healthy vegetables that meet quality standards.
Since NAMBoard is Global GAP certified and has recently obtained ISO 22000:2018 certification for the Encabeni baby vegetables packing facility, this is reflective of the high level of quality assurance maintained by the board.
Before the ISO 22000:2018 certification, the Encabeni packhouse had implemented the Hazard Analysis Critical Point (HACCP) standard. All these standards are aimed at giving assurance to the local markets that consumers’ lives are protected and the produce is safe to eat.
“If we accept produce that does not meet these standards, we stand to lose these certifications,” said Maziya.
The CEO said they are now aiming to extend the implementation of these standards to production sites which are the farmers’ fields.
“By so doing, we will ensure compliance with the standards throughout the value chain. All horticulture farmers are invited to register with NAMBoard to position themselves to access support towards compliance to the market standards,” says Maziya.