Small planters: Rise in a single voice!


As happened during lockdown last year, an aspect of equally critical concern did not get the attention it deserved. This was that the provision of food, especially vegetables, which is also a matter of livelihood for thousands of small to medium scale vendors who meet the daily needs of those categories of people who do not have the means to do bulk buying at supermarkets. People are surprised why the associations of small planters, vegetable growers, and sellers have not come together to lobby their representatives in government to work out jointly how to make sure that our citizens have access to vegetables and fruits, as well as ensuring their own livelihoods. and of others engaged in this sector.

The reality is that the supermarkets buy from bulk suppliers, and they have their favourite ones: the small planters are excluded. And licences to the bulk suppliers is on the basis of personal and political contacts.

The pandemic had already forced us to realise that we will have no choice but to rely on our own local production, and increasingly this means vegetables and fruits.

Last year the police were seen to be chasing small planters who had gone to their fields, and that sent a very wrong signal: the police had clearly not been briefed, and that was not the only instance.

We must not complicate the crisis further. The people will need vegetables and fruits. Much if not most of it is grown by small planters and farmers. The fundamental issue is: how will people get access to vegetables and fruits while respecting the basic sanitary norm imposed, namely social distancing?

And here the principle is to limit physical contact between people, by not clustering, self-protecting, and keeping safe distance. Given that it is not known when la foire and bazaar will be allowed to operate, there is a need to reconcile the supply of vegetables and fruits to the people while abiding by sanitary rules about Covid-19.

Is there a solution? Yes, and it is not rocket science.

  1. It must start with daily messaging about ‘contact at a safe distance’ for as long as is required, and use of masks and gloves.
  2. The sellers (marchands) have their Business Registration Number (BRN) and a mode of transport.
  3. The BRN should be allowed for use as an authorisation for them to source produce from their usual planters/growers, instead of them having to chase WAPs.
  4. Similarly, with the BRN they then go about in their locality and sell to families, with only one member of the family coming out to collect and pay – and again, both parties keeping the same distance and wearing masks and gloves.
  5. A combination of health inspectors and police can patrol localities to make sue norms are being respected.

In this manner: planters/growers will continue to produce vegetables and fruits, and supply sellers who will then distribute them to families who need them.

Through the production, supply and distribution of vegetables and fruits, an essential need of the people will be met and livelihoods will be preserved, at the same time maintaining a most important – because it is about survival – segment of economic activity.

Another advantage is that this method of sourcing and distribution will also meet another important sanitary requirement: avoiding crowds.

The implementation of such a plan has become a matter of national emergency.

We are already facing astronomical pricing for vegetables in supermarkets. It is high time for Government to step in and regulate the flow of the supply chain for the planters,

Better be safe than sorry – before there is a social calamity.

* Published in print edition on 19 March 2021

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