Lockdown inspires creation of farm produce marketplace

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 10 Jun 2020
Digital entrepreneur Gaone Tlhong.
Digital entrepreneur Gaone Tlhong.

Digital transformation entrepreneur Gaone Tlhong has launched a farm produce online marketplace, which she says is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s severe impact on farmers and consumers.

Tlhong, a globally-acclaimed vitiligo advocate, says although agriculture falls under essential services during the national COVID-19-induced lockdown, the traditional selling of fresh farm produce has been severely impacted by restrictions.

Although there are sufficient food supplies available at national level, access to farmers’ and fresh produce markets has become extremely difficult for some during the lockdown.

Tlhong says her Oreng farm produce marketplace may be the solution for both the farmer and consumer.

The launch of the online marketplace comes on the back of calls by role-players for the agricultural and food sectors in South Africa to be re-imagined and barriers lifted for small players.

Dr Sifiso Ntombela, chief economist of the National Agricultural Marketing Council, recently told a farmers webinar, hosted by Food for Mzansi and Grobank, that domestic support for farmers and agribusinesses must be improved.

“Enhanced investment in research, technology and infrastructure is required. Inclusive food value chains and de-concentrated markets are needed,” he noted.

“Also, a stronger focus needs to be put on household food security and upskilling farmers and workers, as well as increased online distribution and modernised trade facilitation.”

More than 1 300 farmers participated in the webinar.

Tlhong, who is CEO of TNG Solutions, which provides digital transformation services, also believes more solutions are needed to help grow SA’s agrifood ecosystem and these must be responsive to, and supportive of, government health measures.

She explains: “Oreng was introduced due to the challenges farmers and farm produce resellers faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will enable safe and easy facilitation of buying and selling farm produce, as well as advance support for the local and buy local mantra by bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

“We have also realised some farmers have been struggling with managing their time to be farming so that they can spend time looking for digital e-commerce platforms. Farmers prefer to spend their time and effort doing what they know best – growing high-quality produce.”

According to Tlhong, the response to Oreng has been overwhelming “because we are offering a free signup to create an online experience for farmers. This has come as a relief to farmers, cutting down the huge financial investment required when building and hosting an online shop.”

Tlhong, a recipient of the Mail and Guardian’s 200 “Young South Africans Making a Difference” award, says the digital economy is growing in SA and presents opportunities for budding entrepreneurs.

“Consumers are beginning to benefit from lower transaction costs that digitalisation provides. Digitalisation is reducing the time, effort and resources required to search for farm produce. Consumers are now better able to access most products, except farm produce, available at minimal cost because of digitalisation. It is, therefore, essential that farmers keep up with the rapid digitalisation that is occurring in the marketplace.

“Farmers who wish to remain relevant and ensure their long-term viability and sustainability beyond the COVID-19 pandemic will need to connect to the digital economy.”

Tlhong notes that due to COVID-19, “the new world seems to be promising for the South African landscape. Data prices have tumbled, thereby encouraging the use of the Internet as a medium for work and shopping. We have realised we don’t necessarily need to meet at a physical marketplace but it can be done online as well. This will enable an early adoption of digital platforms like the Oreng marketplace.”

Explaining how Oreng differs to other such platforms already in existence, Tlhong says: “The Oreng marketplace is empowering the local farmer to be able to reach their local market without travelling long distances to the market. We intend to keep our platform prices as low as possible and at the moment it’s free to sign up.”

Oreng is backed by Simboti Digital, a digital marketing agency based in Midrand also led by Tlhong.

“We will be offering digital marketing services packages to our vendors to grow their business. Oreng is a one-stop shop for farmers who have to make the necessary step towards connecting to their markets and consumers digitally.

“Oreng takes the hassle out of farmers having to establish and manage online platforms.”