From selling raw commodities to product development

In almost all agro-based African economies, there is now consensus that smallholder farmers cannot move out of poverty by producing and selling raw crops directly to the market because that guarantees below average profit. There is no reason why farmers do not engage in farm level value addition closer home, resulting in most by-products being locally used for other income generating options.

Pathways for introducing appropriate technologies

Oil processing should easily be done on farm. There is just need for engineers who can design appropriate medium scale processing machinery. If much of the development funding directed at agricultural production and value chain financing in the past decade had been repurposed for value addition, many smallholder farmers in diverse rural African communities would be value-adding sunflower and other oilseeds at local business centres and growth points like Gokwe, Magunje and Muzarabani and many others across Africa.  Machines that use diesel, hydro or solar power would by now be abundant in rural areas, tapping into rural electrification initiatives.

Each household that produces sunflower would be receiving its allocation of cooking oil and animal cake with excess produce stored in the local warehouse. Cooking oil should then be fed into urban markets cheaply, out-competing expensive cooking oil from corporates.  Stock feed from sunflower cake would  stimulate other value chains like piggery and cattle while excess would be sold to surrounding farmers.

These are also pathways for introducing appropriate technology and other business opportunities around solar energy and relevant customized infrastructure. Sunflower has more multiplier effects as more farmers want to grow the crop. More production will see manual labor being overwhelmed, calling for mechanized production. That is the kind of transformation African economies want as opposed to continue following the colonial route where raw materials travel cities only to come back into rural areas as unaffordable finished products.

Potato can also be value added at local level – Potato crisps should be produced in potato production regions as opposed to the bulk of the commodity travelling hundreds of kilometres to cities. It is not sustainable to continue persuading farmers to produce for contractors and corporates because given the skewed business terms. Farmers will eventually stop producing.  But when small farmers have small clients at local level they can continue producing for appropriate scales.

Groundnuts – why are farmers being persuaded to aggregate groundnuts at Grain Marketing Board depots only for peanut butter processing companies to pick those nuts and produce peanut butter which is then sold back to groundnut producers?  Peanut butter can easily be produced at local business centres like Munengiwa Enterprises in Gokwe South.  This is how African countries can tame urban unemployment as young people would go back to rural areas where there is cheap water and labor. The youth can then contribute to rural industrialization and urbanization from the marginal rural areas and production zones.

Why should salted Maputi be produced in cities when it can easily be produced in rural business centres like what is happening at a place called Chinehasha business centre in Chiweshe area of Zimbabwe where someone has devised a business for local farmers to toll-produce Maputi?  Farmers simply bring their maize grain for roasting and splitting into Maputi for a small fee and they take back their Maputi for local consumption. Many such innovations are already happening while policy makers continue to think that solutions are in expensive hitech machinery.

A case for local bakeries – In Zimbabwe it is common to see wheat travelling more than 800km from ARDA Jotsholo in Matebeleland North province to Harare’s Grain Marketing Board. Then Proton bakery from Marondera comes to pick wheat flour from Harare (80km) and produce bread which then finds its way back to Matebeleland North. Only lazy thinkers can fail to notice something really wrong with this arrangement. Many African countries have similar examples.

Livestock – Why should goats and cattle travel all the way from Binga for slaughter in Bulawayo and Harare when there should be abattoirs in production zones? Local farmers and communities are not enjoying offals, mazondo and musoro of their cattle because everything is taken to big cities.

Fruits and other commodities –Why should mango, tomatoes and other commodities travel 192km from Mutoko to Harare when Mutoko centre is becoming a town?  If you see green mealies travelling 604km from Chiredzi to Harare and farmers travelling 550km with commodities from Fig tree to Harare that is a naked signal of poor market development in the country. There is no way such farmers will make money.  / /

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