Sulawesi smallholders: To sell what grows or grow what sells?

An AgFor specialist instructs a farmer group on vegetative propagation techniques in South Sulawesi

To fully engage in market opportunities, smallholders in Sulawesi must understand what traders and consumers really need  and start growing what sells, instead of merely selling what grows. This is according to a paper published by Perdana and Roshetko in 2012. The authors also say that fruits have the potential to become a key source of livelihoods in the area.

The Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi (AgFor) project works to bring about improved, sustainable and gender-equitable use of agroforestry and forestry products. Project sites are located in Bantaeng and Bulukumba districts, South Sulawesi, and Konawe and Kolaka districts in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. The paper, part of the World Agroforestry Working Paper series, highlights crops and commodities that  are important to the communities at the sites—focusing on value chains, market agents, the role of women, challenges faced, and possible solutions to those challenges. The AgFor project stresses the empowerment of women in livelihoods’ improvement.

Improving smallholder systems and markets through projects emphasizing the productivity and sustainability of forestry and agroforestry, is a key focus of the CGIAR’s Collaborative Research Project 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry—of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner. As part of the project, a baseline study was conducted in twelve villages and hamlets in Bantaeng and Bulukumba districts, South Sulawesi, and eleven villages in Konawe and Kolaka districts, Southeast Sulawesi—reviewing product flow from production to
consumption. According to the survey, the products most important for project communities are corn, potatoes, shallots, coffee, cloves, cocoa, timber, coconut, sago and patchouli. The communities at the project sites face a number of challenges and, as part of the survey, problems and opportunities related to the commodity market system were explored.

Unpredictable price fluctuations emerged as a ubiquitous problem. Farmers suspect that prices are controlled by collectors, but collectors also experience difficulties caused by factors beyond their control. Other problems include weather issues, pests, scarcity of high quality planting material, inefficient marketing systems, insufficient value adding, post-harvest processing issues and lack of local knowledge. Farmers need capacity-building training to increase product marketing strategies including group marketing, and value addition should be introduced to strengthen negotiating positions. Both clove and cocoa farmers can benefit from agroforestry systems to diversify their cash crops and reduce risks.

Based on observation, fruits have the potential to become the main source of the communities’ livelihoods. There are many opportunities for value-added fruit products, including packaging. Local capacity to add value to fruit products needs to be strengthened. Supermarkets can be invited set up fruit projects on-site and roads should be improved so that produce can be taken to markets.

In South and Southeast Sulawesi, as in other parts of Indonesia, collectors and traders pretty much dictate terms to their suppliers, the smallholder producers. These smallholders have a low concept of value creation and do not always understand what traders and consumers really need. They basically sell what grows instead of growing what sells. To fully engage in market opportunities smallholders must understand their target market and develop active marketing strategies. There are obstacles, but opportunities also abound for farmers to access more lucrative value chains and significantly improve their livelihoods.

Read the full paper.'

Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca is a science writer, manager of publishing projects, trainer in science writing, and novelist — working partly from Nairobi, Kenya and partly from Morwell, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in writing, advertising/marketing, publishing and social media, she takes on varied assignments, travelling, if needed, to conduct relevant research and interviews. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Email Rebecca on

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