Unity is strength in the marketing of smallholder farm produce

Delivering Allanblackia seeds to a collection centre in Tanzania. Photo by Charlie Pye-Smith

Delivering Allanblackia seeds to a collection centre in Tanzania. Photo by Charlie Pye-Smith/ICRAF via Flikr

Farmers producing small quantities of a particular crop or tree product face the challenge of selling it at fair prices, and one effective way to improve matters is ‘collective action’ for marketing. If done right, much can be gained in terms of increased income and food security when smallholder farmers come together and pool their harvest, selling it in bulk.

Nonetheless, collective action in marketing, particularly for small-scale farmers in Africa, is not as simple as it seems at first glance, as a new article shows. The review, published in the journal Current Opinions on Environmental Sustainability, synthesizes some of the lessons learned over two decades of implementing collective action, and provides some pointers for success.

Collective action has been defined as “Group activities that directly or indirectly enhance the production and marketing of agricultural and food products…” and “Action by members of a group or cooperative who come together to share market knowledge, sell together and develop business opportunities.”

Based on published research from sub-Saharan Africa, ICRAF scientist and marketing specialist Dr Amos Gyau and co-authors cite studies that show how collective action in marketing agroforestry has produced results such as:

Particularly in Africa, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been at the forefront of promoting and helping implement collective action. In the article, Gyau and co-authors warn that NGOs would be well advised to  work with exiting farmer groups, rather than to try to convene new ones. Groups already in existence have a better chance of being self-coordinated and -managed. They are more likely to enjoy farmers’ willingness to pursue a common course of action—a crucial criterion for success. And they are less likely to be plagued with issues such as ‘free-riding’, where some members gain the benefits without contributing much to the group.

“Generally, smaller groups with shared values and accountable leaders are more successful and stable,” states the article.

The authors mention that, perhaps surprisingly, economic benefits on their own will not motivate smallholders farmers to come together and stick together in a collective—social benefits play a big role, too.

“Collective action is more likely to be successful when social factors that bind people together are included in its implementation,” says the review, citing a recent study by Gyau and others, which looked at kola production and marketing by smallholders in Cameroon.

In addition, a favourable environment with  external support for organizations; guaranteed funding; post-harvest technology support; and governmental structures that do not undermine local authority, all favour success.

At the centre of any collective action is the product being marketed. Therefore, the article says, ‘best fit’ collective-action models must take into account the product/s, the smallholder producers, as well as the political and policy environment.

Read full article:

Amos Gyau, Steven Franzel, Maryben Chiatoh, Godwill Nimino, Kwadwo Owusu, Collective action to improve market access for smallholder producers of agroforestry products: key lessons learned with insights from Cameroon’s experience, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 6, February 2014, Pages 68-72, ISSN 1877-3435, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2013.10.017. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877343513001474)

This article appears in a special issue of the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability on the theme ‘Sustainability challenges.’  The full special issue is available Open Access at  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/18773435/6/supp/C

The issue will be launched during the World Congress on Agroforestry, Delhi, February 2014.

Learn more about ICRAF’s work on improving tree product marketing for smallholders

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Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences (bels.org) and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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