Pretoria Food Co-op a new approach to fresh produce
Catherine Hill-Herndon, US Deputy Chief of Missions (DCM), recently hosted an event at her residence to celebrate the launch of the Pretoria Food Co-operative (Co-op) where members of the Co-op showcased their products alongside the US Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA FAS).
Local agriculture experts and small farmers gathered to discuss the importance of food co-ops which support farmers, offers training and mentorship and assure markets for their produce.
A new approach to food production
The Pretoria Co-op represents a new approach to delivering fresh produce and is a win-win for small farmers and consumers alike. Hill-Herndon said, “We believe that direct marketing of products to consumers offers a value chain that returns higher prices to farmers through the cooperative structure. Similar projects in the US have helped turn smallholder production of food and agricultural products into one of the fastest-growing segments of the food market in the country.
Over the years, we have partnered to help South Africa develop the skills of its farmers and more than 500 South Africans have received agricultural training in the US through our Cochran Fellowship program.” The Co-op is one of the USDA’s first efforts to assist South African farmers in establishing formal, direct marketing to consumers of high quality goods.
The Pretoria Co-op, which aims to integrate farmers from the Pretoria, Cullinan and Brits areas, launched in late 2015 following four years of planning. It aims to bring a new approach to food production that makes small scale farming more profitable, reduces food waste and gives consumers access to fresh produce at a saving of between 20 – 25%.
A shared portal
The Co-op will register farmers in a shared portal as Co-op members and shareholders, as well as the consumers as members and shareholders. All Co-op members will use the portal to track their contributions and the Co-op’s spend, seek advice and mentorship, financing or loans, as well as engage and learn from each-other on the Co-op forum.
Consumers can subscribe to have baskets of fresh produce, and even farm-baked goods and preserves, delivered to their door weekly or monthly. The Co-op also plans to establish regional distribution points and food markets in future.
One of the founders of the co-op, Daniel Van Boxel, explained that this transparent and integrated approach is modelled on successful Co-ops and markets abroad, but taking into account local challenges and conditions. He hopes to see local farmers benefiting from US agricultural expertise as part of the new initiative.
The new Pretoria Co-op has commitments from 35 farmers and interest from over 300 consumers in the Pretoria area so far; with requests from Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Western Cape and 21 other countries across Africa for the model to be replicated there, too. A number of existing local Co-ops have also shown interest in affiliating with a new, broader Co-op movement. Van Boxel believes that the initiative can be successfully replicated and grown to become an enormous network of thriving small farmers, healthier consumers, and potentially also suppliers, to the benefit of everyone.
“We hear a lot about a food shortage,” he says. “But in reality, I believe there is enough food for everyone – production and distribution has just not been coordinated effectively enough. We need to support our smaller and new farmers to become more productive and profitable, and give consumers access to nutritious food more cost-effectively. The new Co-op model does this.”