Reports indicating that the prevailing high day temperatures are ruining more than 60 percent of the fresh produce farmers are delivering for sale at Mbare Musika are disturbing.
Coming against a background of stringent marketing regulations by the City of Harare, the matter brings to the fore the fact that the municipality is only interested in the farmers’ day-to-day offerings and not their welfare.
The farmers have to pay to sell their produce under very deplorable conditions, with the city fathers gladly making them pay for another day for the sale of left-over produce if the farmer feels obliged to do so.
In most cases, the farmers end up disposing the produce at give-away prices once they realise that their business hours are drawing to a close.
This is a clear demonstration of the absence of courteousness in the relationship between Harare City Council and the farmers, yet these two parties have been doing business together for a long time.
Surely, at this point in time, the City of Harare should have collected enough levies from the farmers to just spare a bit for the erection of decent sheds, building of decent refrigerated storage facilities, putting concrete floors with good drainage at the market and more importantly ensuring that the place is run efficiently minus the unscrupulous middlemen and touts.
This would bring in the sense of professionalism and business that is missing at the premises.
Essentially, the goings-on at the Mbare fresh produce market are frustrating the nation’s push to industrialise rural areas and economically empower farmers by making it easy for them to do business profitably.
What is happening at the market will not allow the farmers to score profits, but losses, which will create paupers out of them.
It is fast becoming a tradition for heaps of rotten tomatoes to be thrown into skip bins daily as waste, which is depriving producers of their deserved revenue.
Maybe it is time the Government, through the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, takes over the running of the fresh produce market and invest in market infrastructure in the same way it is investing in irrigation, dams and roads, if horticultural produce is to be preserved and sold in its best state.
City of Harare recently admitted that they are failing to develop cold-chain infrastructure at the market and are even failing to look for investors to do so.
The irony is that the city council has since installed biogas digesters built in collaboration with the European Union to help with the disposal of rotting fresh produce in line with the current environmental awareness noises globally.
It boggles the mind why the council would prepare for the worst and not just act in time to prevent the worst from happening.
This is enough justification for the Government to come in and save the day for the farmers before it is too late.
This will not be the first time the Government comes to the rescue of farmers from situations that could have easily led to the collapse of critical sub-sectors of the agriculture industry.
This time it is the horticulture smallholder sub-sector desperately needing someone to heed their SOS call.
We have seen the Government stepping in to save the cotton, tobacco and maize industries, so this may be the point at which it can do so.
The Mbare fresh produce market has been perennially dogged by problems, with farmers always coming out licking bruised egos.
The Harare City Council has not been protecting its trade partner from middlemen who harass them, steal their produce and even influence prices to force farmers to just dump produce and leave.
This has been happening for years and indications are that this may be heading for eternity if the parent Ministry of the city council does not come in and be the overall referee who will ensure fair play prevails.
Additionally, Mbare Musika is always jammed with human traffic, which makes it a deserving candidate for decentralisation of services, possibly through the provision of alternative space for more food markets.
This will bring sanity plus orderliness to the trading activities, with farmers going to different markets where they will all get enough time to sell their produce.
City of Harare recently said they were facing space constraints after decentralising the fresh produce market to Highfields, Mabvuku and Hatfield.
The city’s position is very unfortunate given that there is always a lot of space for land barons to run illegal housing schemes, fleecing home-seekers of their hard-earned cash.
It is such spaces that the city council should consider for such noble projects that will benefit residents and not unscrupulous individuals that end up claiming ownership of the spaces and selling them to unsuspecting citizens.
It is obvious that Mbare fresh produce market will still remain the biggest market in the country in terms of volume and value of trade.
This will be so because of its geographical location on the shoulders of the biggest bus terminus in Harare that serves as a transport watershed to all corners of the country.
On any given day, Mbare Musika starts trading operations for wholesale at 0500hrs and closes shop at 1100hrs, with retail beginning thereafter.
Although the hours committed for wholesale trading may look adequate on paper, that is only possible in an environment where all other enablers are working perfectly and there are no distractions such as having to contend with the blazing sun, the pools of mud during the rainy season, bogus council officials enforcing their dubious laws and many other counteractions.
It may also become necessary for the city fathers to revise the time allocated for wholesale trading or maybe allow retail to start a bit earlier to allow both parties adequate business hours.
It is, however, refreshing to note that the city council occasionally listens to the voice of reason and has reviewed downwards all charges on trading activities in a move meant to increase farmers and traders’ incomes.
Acting communications and public relations manager for Harare City Council Mr Innocent Ruwende recently confirmed the development, saying they responded to pleas from farmers that their charges were on the upward side and slashed individual farmer market fees from US$16 to US$10 per day.
Sadly, the reality is that some of the farmers even struggle to net amounts in the region of that US$10 from their daily sales, thanks to the long list of problems they have to take care of before selling the produce.
The absence of cold chain infrastructure is causing shortages of products in the long term, as there is no value addition to guarantee long shelf life for produce.
The strain is always transferred to the national fiscus with the country being forced to import substitutes to satisfy demand.
In recent weeks, tomatoes were reported to be in short supply, with imports coming in from Zambia to fill the gap, yet heaps of rotten tomatoes are being thrown away daily at Mbare Musika.
The horticulture sector has always been the hardest hit when it comes to post-harvest losses that are estimated at over 30 percent.