Food for 9 Billion: Small farmers and supermarkets in southern Africa

fancy supermarket

Photo of a new supermarket in Lusaka, Zambia, by andresmh (Andrés Monroy-Hernández) via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The latest installment in the yearlong, public-media project Food for 9 Billion comes from Gretchen Wilson reporting from Zambia and Lesotho:

Supermarket chains are rapidly expanding all over Africa. And they’re not just changing the way people shop. They’re transforming the way food is produced in a region where agriculture provides almost 60 percent of all jobs.

“The main problem of the small farmer is market access,” [Joyce] Chitja [of the African Centre for Food Security] said. “How will they put it into the marketplace?”

As supermarkets spread, they could lift millions of small farmers out of poverty by buying from them. Or competition from big commercial farms could ruin them.

As Wilson continues,

In Zambia, the farmers’ union is politically powerful. So when [South African supermarket chain] Pick n Pay opened its stores, the government insisted it buy at least half its goods from Zambian suppliers. Today, more than three-quarters of the stores’ produce comes from within the country.

On their own, small farmers often struggle to supply the quantities and quality the big grocery store chains need. In Zambia, some producers work together. Near Lusaka, an independently-owned packhouse consolidates produce from about 60 farmers, who bring their tomatoes or onions in pick-up trucks — or even wheelbarrows — whenever they can.

Like all the previous installments, this Food for 9 Billion story is interesting and informative and takes us to places we might not otherwise go. Head here for the full print and audio versions, along with a photo slideshow.

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