Impact of COVID-19 lockdown on small-scale farmer and agro-processor, Philani Ngcobo

Philani Ngcobo is a full-time small-scale farmer who lives in a communal area in Ndwedwe, a small town in Ilembe District Municipality just outside of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. COVID 19 impacted his farming, with losses in some areas and gains in others.

Philani studied accounting after school and received a National Diploma in Accounting and has been a farmer since 2011 with no other source of income. His small farm produces a diverse range of produce, including:

  • seedlings that he sells to other farmers and households. He buys the seeds from a commercial seed producer in Pietermaritzburg;
  • vegetables that he sells to households in his neighbourhood, street traders who sell cooked food and enterprises that sell to school feeding schemes in the iLembe District Municipality;
  • chicks that he produces in an incubator and sells to local farmers;
  • pigs that he sells to an abattoir;
  • calves that he buys from dairy farmers, grows and sells on the local market.

He produces some of his vegetables, like tomatoes, in an aquaponics system and also does some agro-processing.

His market for vegetables was significantly affected under COVID 19 lockdown because the school feeding schemes that the traders supplied the vegetables to were affected by the school closures. Seedling sales also took a knock when farmers stopped buying in response to their markets drying up during the hard lockdown. Despite this, Philani observed a counter-trend in increased seedling sales to local households because “people did not go to work and had time to do gardens”.

In January 2020 he was selling vegetables and chicks weekly, and selling up to 90% of his stock regularly. He has noticed that his chick production is higher now because chick sales increased during lockdown as producers struggled to get supplies from their normal sources. His calf production has been limited by the availability of calves since the beginning of the lockdown.

During February 2020, his sales earned him R1880 from vegetables, R520 from day old chicks and R3000 from a grown out calf. These sales have been accompanied by an increase in input prices. In February 2020 the price of:

  • fish food for the aquaponics system went up by R100 to R425 for 25kg
  • pig feed went up by R25 for 50kg, an increase of R100 on his R600 bill
  • seed potatoes went up from R170/25 kg in 2019 to R200/25 kg in 2020.

This is a cost that he passes onto his customers in order to maintain the profitability of his farming.


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