How does food move from production zones to markets and consumers?
Besides not knowing what is involved in producing food, there are high chances that most urban consumers across the world have no clue how potatoes, tomatoes and other commodities they eat every day get to their plates. Transporters are some of the unsung heroes in African agriculture and food systems. Working in mass markets for more than a decade has enabled eMKambo to spend time identifying types and sizes of transport that move the bulk of agricultural commodities from farming regions to urban markets in Zimbabwe and other African countries.
20 – 30 ton trucks
Due to their bulky nature, potatoes are mostly transported from farms to markets by 20 – 30 ton trucks. In markets like Mbare, these big trucks constitute 2-5% of the total transport. At least 50-60% of these trucks are owned by white commercial farmers who are involved in large scale potato production (60 – 100ha). The farmers realized that if you plant 30 ha of potatoes and above, the cost of selling those potatoes using hired transport is equivalent to buying your own truck. That is why they have invested in owning their own trucks which are often hired by traders.
A 30 ton trucks fill up with 2000 potato pockets and that is a major advantage because it reduces the cost of transportation per unit. A single truck brings more volume of produce per one delivery and that reduces the need for many small trucks which would cause congestion in the market. Big trucks are also more convenient for long distance distribution as well as inter-city and inter-market distribution.
However, the main disadvantage in using the 20-30 ton trucks is that they cannot navigate some hilly terrains like Bende in Nyanga where potato production does well. The big truck has to be stationed some distance from the farming area and fed by smaller trucks as well as tractors. At least two days are spent on harvesting, grading and packing in order to fill a 30-ton truck with potatoes.
8- 10 ton trucks
This category of trucks is mainly used to carry cabbages, butternuts, sugar cane and small volumes of potatoes from small scale producers. These trucks can be afforded by the majority of traders who hire because they carry quantities most traders are able to hoard from farming areas. The majority of traders cannot hoard a 30 ton (gonyeti) of potatoes individually but can afford a 10 ton. Many medium scale farmers can also produce volumes that fit into a 10 ton, not a 3 ton. In most cases, 8-10 ton trucks are owned by different transport owners and a few traders. Depending on commodity of specialization, among other factors, medium scale farmers can also own 8-10 trucks individually.
4-5 ton trucks
These carry a wide range of commodities including tomatoes, cabbages, butternuts, sugar cane, sweet potatoes and many others. At least 25-30% of these trucks are owned by traders although some ordinary people can own the trucks which they use for transporting anything. All hired trucks are predominantly stationed at big markets like Mbare from where they are called by farmers when produce is ready for collection in farming areas. In terms of cost, the 4-5 ton trucks have better costs against volumes they carry. A lot of these trucks are involved in inter-city food distribution.
2-3 ton trucks
Commodities like carrots, peas, pepper, green pepper, fine beans, green mealies, onion, wild fruits, lemon and many other high value commodities are brought to markets by this category of trucks. Basically, they are speed boxes for small quantities and are also used by individual farmers because they are affordable and a single small scale farmer can fill a truck from his/her small plot.
1 ton trucks and Ominbuses (Kombi)
Of late, Ominbuses have entered the food transportation landscape –carrying commodities from farms to markets. A Key attraction is that they have carrying capacity equivalent to a 1-ton pick-up truck or 2-ton truck. Another advantage is that Ominbuses provide better security to commodities. For instance, when it is raining or too dusty, commodities are protected unlike on open trucks. They also function as temporary warehouses where the trader off-loads as and when s/he likes.
Long distance buses
Most commodities like small grains and indigenous fruits (Matohwe, mawuyu, nyii, nzungu) as well as many others that move in small volumes get to markets from rural areas on public transport like long distance buses that are found in every African country. When this public transport is not available, the majority of poor farmers and vendors are thrown out of business. Farmers who trade small volumes of crops do not have the capacity to coordinate themselves like those who produce tomatoes in one community. Inter-city movement of food commodities is largely done by long distance buses. Traders also use these buses and sometimes a single trader can hire the entire boot or a big portion of the bus carrier. Many bus owners have confessed to making more money from food luggage than carrying passengers. That is why building the capacity of bus owners, drivers and conductors to understand food has become very important.
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