by Mukondeleli Makhwathane

New Port market

Fresh produce market has become bustling trade area for emerging farmers

New Port fresh food market is a bustling success
fresh produce.jpg

In many respects, New Port represents a new era in the funding approach adopted by the National Development Agency (NDA). It is a unique project in that, for the first time, the agency has funded a project aimed at building a retail base and establishing its brand in the highly competitive commercial marketplace.

“I must confess that I was quite sceptical when I approached the NDA,” acknowledges Muhle Sibisi, founding member and chairperson of the New Port Co-operative.

“I had my doubts about its willingness to put funds behind an idea that would push the boundaries of what has become known as an ‘acceptable’ projects to fund,” he says.

Despite his reservations, and with the encouragement of a local NDA representative, he approached the agency.

His idea, which he admits had been germinating in his mind since childhood, was to open up direct and easy access for emerging farmers to urban markets.

“I grew up in a rural area, and as is common practice in such an environment I spent a lot of time working the soil and raising crops in conjunction with my family.

“I always knew that our produce carried commercial value, but there never seemed to be an effective way of unlocking this potential,” Sibisi says.

Since 2000, he had been active in the informal trading of produce and had gained a good understanding of the challenges prevalent in this sector.

By the time he approached the NDA with his plan to create a fresh produce market that would focus on being an outlet for all the emerging farmers in the region, he was quite confident that his venture would be a commercial success.

His experience, business plan and the thorough manner in which he dealt with all the details, along with his experience in the market, were all factors that convinced the NDA that this ‘new’ approach was worthy of funding. The agency assisted him in fitting the market with all the necessary equipment, and in October 2010 New Port opened its doors for the first time.

“Full-blown commercial enterprises are expensive to get off the ground, and the grant was a sizable R3.5 million,” reveals Sibisi.

To his credit, the market has been a great success – even an outstanding funding tranche has not broken its growth stride.

”There is still about R300 000 that is outstanding, but this does not pose a problem for us, as we are on a sound footing and generate enough to keep us going,” he says. It has also been a huge positive for emerging farmers in the region, who now find a ready market for their produce.

According to Sibisi, for many of the emerging farmers the market provides an introduction to the rigours of the free-market system.

He admits that a number of emerging farmers harbour unrealistic price expectations, and that he often spends some time with them during price negotiations to explain the impact of energy costs and how the prevailing market price influences what he can offer them for their produce.

“We always find a happy medium in terms of price, and I also use the opportunity to advise them on packaging techniques for their produce, since how you display your products makes a big difference to consumers.

“One of the challenges I am experiencing revolves around the regularity of supply. I always encourage the farmers to have a crop in the field, since this gives them the opportunity to take advantage of good market prices while riding out the dips.”

Sibisi has big plans for the future. He is negotiating with owners of the building situated at the back of the market to secure a lease for these premises.

He intends opening up a wholesale market in this space, catering for vendors and other bulk buyers.

“This makes no sense, but they do it because they do not have municipal markets in their towns. I believe we can successfully take the New Port brand into these regions and kick-start the wholesale side of our business in a big way,” Sibisi says.

This expansion will create additional employment opportunities, and Sibisi could add to the 19 people already employed at the market.

“One of the key challenges I am going to have to overcome first is raising the finance to expand my fleet. Ideally, I need a fleet of one-tonne commercial vehicles and three more trucks. If I can get these, we can collect and get produce to the market faster. It will also facilitate our expansion drive,” he says.

Considering the track record he has for innovation and overcoming obstacles, there are few people who would bet against his making this a reality.

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