A dollar earned now is worth more than a thousand dollars coming late
Smallholder farmers, vendors and traders would rather earn their income daily than wait to be paid after a month. This principle is driven by the nature of challenges faced by these low income earners who constitute the majority in African countries. That is why a rapid responses based on people’s needs are very important. Mass food markets characterize a rapid response mechanism that cuts across value chains and food systems where, if ignored, external factors can minimize sustainability.
Rainfall is an external factor on which farmers need assistance in accurately manipulating it. They need knowledge on how to respond to such external factors. Agricultural production cannot solely depend on weather reports because when rains come farmers need advice based on the amount of moisture in their particular soils – amount of rainfall, how long to wait before planting, time taken by crops to germinate and planting depth depending on specific amounts of moisture. These issues can only be responded to through localised technology that can help farmers to get real time advice as soon as rain touches the ground.
Responding to gaps between demand and supply of commodities and inputs
There is always a gap between demand and supply of agricultural inputs to farmers in most African countries. Seed companies are still using seasons as a determinant of when to supply seed to agro-dealers. As a result, some farmers are without inputs at critical times of the season. Local agro-dealers also do not have local farmers’ production plans in terms of what the farmers what to plant as well as quantities needed. Such information would inform agro-dealers’ procurement strategies rather than just acquiring inputs on the assumption that local farmers will buy whatever is provided.
Ideally, local agricultural extension services departments should have comprehensive information about farmers’ demands, achievements and production patterns over years. Such details will avoid cases where by the time inputs from development agencies and government programs get to farmers, the farmers will have made their plans in line with what they have at local level. Individual farmer needs should be the basis of a rapid response system which quickly informs farmers on outbreak of pest, diseases and coping with dry spells. A solution that comes on time is more useful than one which comes late when communities have designed their own coping strategies.
With proper registration and a focused documentation culture, local extension services departments should know who has bought which agricultural commodities in a particular community. At the moment buyers can simply travel from big cities to rural areas and buy a lot of agricultural commodities without extension officers and local authorities caring to know what has been bought and where it is going as well as the implication on local food security. Inter-district trade can also happen without authorities and policy makers knowing what is happening every season. It does not make much sense to worry about mining claims in a particular community or district and not worry about agricultural commodities leaving that particular community or district.
This is very important so that farmers and communities can know their buyers who they can rely on even for inputs. Some level of bureaucracy is necessary if it enhances monitoring of local resources. The extension department should be able to say to buyers: “Beginning next months if you want to buy sorghum from Chivi district give us information on what you want to buy and in which ward”. Such levels of detail can help communities to organise themselves and also get a sense of consensus on price based on local circumstances.
The power of coordinating for collective impact
It is unfortunate that African farming communities are often exposed to several forms of advice, sometimes conflict advice from government departments, NGOs and the private sector all competing to guide farmers. Many NGOs provide advice to farmers based on particular NGOs’ projects not based on farmers’ real needs. Most monitoring services or visits are not demand-driven because they are not planned together with farmers. Such visits are also not flexible enough to respond to the emergent nature of needs in the agriculture sector.
For instance, it is not easy for development partners and NGOs to divert resources to emerging issues like floods, market failure and diseases even if resources are available. Development agencies would rather conduct a baseline and write a report instead of addressing an emergency already crying for attention. Development partners should not only extend their support to production but market players as well as building market infrastructure. This will ultimately create demand for commodities produced by their beneficiaries. Helping farmers to produce without a market condemns them to frustration and more poverty.
Carefully understanding the market and collecting information as well as sharing it timely with producers and other actors for quick decision making is the foundation for agricultural transformation. Once producers have a relationship with the market, it becomes easy for financiers to promote their own services. A rapid response system is critical because demand is usually triggered somewhere and in different angles. More than 5000 households may want to eat potatoes from Mbare tomorrow but this demand may not be known at the moment. This means more than 30 tons of potatoes are needed tomorrow. Since 80% of market assessments are done by vendors and traders, a farmer can feed more than 1000 households without knowing it because the information is not coordinated. A rapid response system can address these critical issues for the benefit of farmers.
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