On Saturday 30 July, Crescent English Medium School in Lobatse held its first ever farmers’ day market. Farmers’ Day, or country, markets have long been commonplace in small towns throughout South Africa. Here local farmers display their homegrown produce alongside other small businesses.

Although such markets are usually annual events, other markets are held more frequently; even once a week, usually on a Saturday. And they may attract hundreds, and even thousands, of visitors who come from near and far. At Crescent’s farmers’ day market, traders were charged P80 per stall and visitors paid P5 each to enter the market area. Although the numbers of farmers were few, they displayed a wide range of good-quality fresh vegetables such as cabbages, carrots and beetroots.

But the farmers’ market here was not just about selling great farm produce. It also showcased the work of local artists, including teachers and students from the school – large paintings, sculptures... Some cottage industries – small businesses that are run from home – also displayed their wares. At one stall, customers were spoilt for choice. Here different types of locally homemade masala – red, brown, green in colour – were for sale [masala is a South Asian dish made with a sauce containing a variety of spices].

They included green masala, garlic masala, red ginger garlic masala, peri peri prawn masala, biryani masala, tandoori masala [tandoori refers to a particular South Asian method of cooking food in a clay cooker]. These masala varieties contain ingredients such as chillis, coriander, mixed herbs, mutton, chicken... A nearby stall sold a variety of atchars.

These are pickled foods from the Indian subcontinent which are made from a variety of vegetables and fruits preserved in brine, vinegar, or edible oils along with various spices. On offer here were mango, carrot, lemon and pineapple atchars. Other stalls sold a variety of ornamental flowers and small bushes.

Another sold packets of tasty, juicy and sweet premium quality Ajwa al Madinah, Barni and Safawi al Madinah dates. These dates are grown in the oasis of Medina [al Madinah] in Saudi Arabia. Some of the varieties are black in colour whilst others are brownish. Potential customers were also given the opportunity to taste some samples. Indeed, these dates burst with flavor and have a soft texture. Other stalls in the market sold non-food products such as cosmetics and colourful dresses for the ladies. For many visitors, the market was a nice social occasion, a chance to meet up with friends and relatives. And what better way to do this than over a tasty snack or meal freshly prepared on the spot? And diners were spoilt for choice here.

At one stall, some well-built stocky local ladies were cooking traditional Setswana cuisine in three-legged pots. Here diners could choose between morogo wa Setswana [cooked dried leaves of bean plants], dinawa tsa korong [beans], koko ya Setswana [Tswana chicken], and bogobe jwa lerotse, a porridge made from a local large melon-like vegetable.

At other stalls, the sound of sizzling meat and the sight of smoke spiraling up into the clear blue sky, were signs that braaied meat was on the menu – beef steaks and spicy sausages and boerewors. Cooks elsewhere were hard at it braaing pieces of chicken that had been marinated for some 24 hours beforehand in a mixture of oil, coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder.

This permeates the chicken and adds flavor to it and makes it more tender. The market also provided ample opportunities for a spot of people watching. Here Indian ladies were dressed up to the nines for the occasion, sporting eye-catching colourful long flowing robes, and some wore loose-fitting saris. They also wore colourful veils, or hijabs, around their heads; some veils were covered with bright floral patterns.

A few more conservative women wore black head-to-toe robes and a matching veil which covered all but their eyes; these outfits are known as niqabs. And some of the grey and white bearded menfolk also dressed to impress! Some wore ankle length robes, or chuvas/djellabas, and small round Muslim skullcaps. And others were dressed in Indian style two- or three-piece suits. So, for many visitors, the market was a rich unforgettable multicultural experience – a chance to mingle with those from the Indian subcontinent and taste their delicious cuisine. And those from that part of the world also had the chance to partake of tasty Tswana dishes.

On a more serious note, it is hoped that many of the stall holders will clinch valuable direct contacts with some of the local eateries, stores and supermarkets. These days many small businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to make profits and to survive due to the fact that many people now have less disposable income, thanks largely to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent increases in fuel and food prices. But the market has helped them to display their produce and to interact with potential new customers.

The real beauty of such a market is that it helps create a circular economy. Instead of people spending all their money at a big foreign retail chain store, money now can be spent on local businesses thus helping them to stay afloat. Therefore, such money will be kept in the local community for longer. One seller of ornamental plants expressed delight with the market.

He said that he had made over P1 000 from the sale of his plants during the day and he agreed that such a market can, indeed, help small traders to boost their businesses. Asked if he would attend the next farmers’ day here, the seller said that he would definitely come and would bring a larger selection of plants. He even said that he might set up a temporary kraal where he would show town children how to milk goats.

Clearly, the sky is the limit! Although the market is a small start, Crescent school is delighted with the response and support shown by the local warm hearted community. The market is not a one-off event and the school plans to hold more farmers’ day markets in the future which will attract more participants.

The money that was raised from stall and entry fees this year will help the school to further equip its library. Such markets could take place throughout the country and put much needed income in the pockets of small traders.

They might also encourage small farmers to grow more vegetables, especially in these days when the importation of many vegetables into Botswana is now banned. And to attract more customers, entertainment could be laid on, for example, jumping castles and trampolines for the kids and marimba bands...

Grahame McLeod