A public market information system for buyer-seller groups in Cameroon’s NTFP sector?
Respect for mutual agreements and the exchange of transparent market information are the two most important criteria for the success and sustainability of buyer-seller relationships in Cameroon’s non-timber forest products (NTFP) sector. This is according to a study by Foundjem-Tita et al published in the African Journal of Agricultural Research. The study found that product quantity, quality and prices, along with good ethical practices are necessary to start, build and maintain sustainable producers-trader partnerships. Further, and perhaps specific to less developed countries, are factors related to having reliable market information. Producers and traders habitually transmit inaccurate market information in a bid to outsmart each other. The authors say a reliable public market information system, supported by the state or NGOs, may complement current systems.
Strategic alliances between producer groups and traders can benefit both parties. Producers get a ready market for their produce, and traders achieve operational efficiency by buying centrally. However, it isn’t east to initiate, build and sustain such partnerships, mainly due to lack of trust between buyers and sellers. There have been calls for research and development organisations to promote better collaboration between producers and traders in smallholder agriculture. A good number of studies already exist on agricultural associations and cooperatives in developing countries, but few focus on long-term buyer-seller relationships. This study was an attempt to fill this gap. Data was collected from njansang and kolanut producers in Cameroon, focusing on how producers and traders initiated relationships and set up terms of collaboration. They also studied whether mutually agreed upon terms were respected, and how partners perceived the on-going relationship in terms of trust, commitment and dependence.
Data was collected in two phases. In the first phase, discussions were held before the start of sales between selected NTFPs producers and the traders. In the second phase, a survey was administered to producers and traders five years after the partnership was established. The groups were guided in their discussions by scientists from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Improving smallholder systems and markets, with a focus on 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 both ICRAF and CIFOR are key partners.
Both producers and traders named product quantity and quality; regularity and timeliness in the supply of products; improved communication on the part of producers; and more market information from traders as vital to a successful partnership. Mistrust came in the form of traders doubting producer capacity to supply adequate quantities to justify their (the traders’) transport and transaction costs. Producers doubted the purchasing power of traders, wondering if they had enough capital to buy the huge quantities the groups were planning to mobilise. Weaknesses were addressed in subsequent meetings by producers and traders before they went into business.
After five years of collaboration, the majority of producers and traders still did not trust each other but indicated a desire to continue trading with each other. This may seem odd given that the majority had expressed dissatisfaction and mistrust, but can be explained by the fact that switching to a new partner involves high transaction costs, so both groups prefer to remain with the ones they already know.
Levels of mistrust were highest on the item measuring quality of information shared, indicating that if parties had access to correct market information there would be less opportunistic behaviour. A reliable public marketing system, supported by the state or NGOs, thus emerges as a recommendation. This study did not reveal which factor (respect of mutual agreements or circulation of transparent information) may be more important in building trust between producers and traders, but the authors argue that elements of the study are still useful for educating producers and traders about each other’s expectations.