An under-appreciated advantage of African informal food markets is how they allow farmers, traders, consumers and other actors to emotionally participate in business and change processes through sharing their aspirations and frustrations.
By CHARLES DHEWA
The same cannot happen in formal markets like supermarkets and formal manufacturing industries where farmers just deliver commodities and wait to be paid after weeks, if not months. Some of the enduring frustrations among African smallholder farmers participating in formal marketing systems is absence of profit-oriented budgeting.
For instance, it remains largely unknown how much a farmer should put in to earn a profit in potato production from different production zones. Such insights cannot be generic, but have to be tied to specific markets like processors, food chain stores or informal markets. Due to this loophole, some buyers end up offering low prices, citing invisible costs incurred along the value chain.
Ideally, all production elements should be put together and reveal different scenarios. That is why a system of managing, tracking and updating production budgets for different contexts should be put in place.
Expanding price negotiation mechanisms
In addition to issues mentioned above, the majority of African smallholder farmers do not have mechanisms for price negotiation, taking into account issues like distance, road networks and other factors.
A budget for farmers in Mazowe should be different from that for farmers in Nyanga, especially when they sell to the same market. Nyanga may require different inputs from Mazowe in ways that make both places profitable in different ways. The cost benefit analysis in different production zones can provide a meaningful Return on Investment (ROI) for farmers in the different areas.
Spending time in the market enables farmers to identify and define details surrounding market dynamics and see opportunities that drive positive agricultural change. Through regular presence in the market, farmers and other value chain actors are able to anticipate challenges and opportunities coming down the pike and respond proactively.
For instance, an impending drought van be picked from frequent discovery research exercises in the market. That is also how under-appreciated facts about ways in which agricultural food systems function can be surfaced.
These hidden facts include how potatoes and onion were becoming staples, thanks to increasing urbanisation as well as new tastes and preferences of the young generation, who now patronise fast food outlets. Exposure to the market also enables all value chain actors to realise how markets can be vital sources of wealth, prosperity and social values on a larger scale.