In their pursuit for survival, most value chain actors in developing countries do not clarify their contribution to a big purpose like economic growth. For instance, instead of seeing how their work contributes to national food and nutrition security, most farmers and manufacturers tend to be interested in the colour of the money. That is why their first question to the market is how much is the market offering per a given quantity of specific commodities? Ideally, money and better incomes should be outcomes from a much larger purpose. Those motivated by money or high prices will always struggle to achieve their goals. There will never be enough money to satisfy all wants.
The power of evidence and reflection
Everyone should ask themselves how they are contributing to socio-economic resilience and growth. For instance, those fond of importing goods into the country should demonstrate how their activities contribute to economic growth. Exporters should do the same. Why do importers of basic commodities think importing is the solution to the high cost of producing agricultural commodities like soya bean and fruits locally? It should be easy to bring farmers, processors, transporters and input providers together and explore each other’s level of effort in supporting socio-economic growth and resilience.
By taking 30% from farmers’ incomes, how do financial institutions and transporters think they are contributing to socio-economic growth? How do exorbitant interest rates charged by African financial institutions contribute to economic growth? While many African countries are full of development organizations, economic growth and resilience cannot be left to development partners. Are development organizations expected to be more patriotic than local value chain actors who seem more interested in money than long-term economic growth and future prospects?
Building a new evidence-informed mindset
For farmers who say they can’t accept low prices due to the cost of inputs, what is going to be the end? What is the price of money that causes input providers to increase their price, leading to consumers failing to afford agricultural commodities? Developing countries cannot continue blaming the international market for not accepting their products but focus on finding ways of making their commodities competitive on the international market. Critical questions to be answered collectively include:
- Who is causing our commodities to be uncompetitive on the local and international market? Is it the farmer, input provider, financier, transporter or policy makers?
- Why are we failing to feed our people when we have abundant natural and human resources?
- Why should consumers buy local food when imports are available and cheap?
Knowledge-intensive methods are critical in addressing these chicken and egg challenges. Instead of resorting to a blame game, every value chain actor should ask themselves whether they are contributing negatively or positively to socio-economic sustainability. When we see commodities come into the country through our borders we should ask ourselves whether we have reached such a crisis point that most consumers no longer have any choices or we just open borders willy-nilly. Naturally consumers should be allowed to adjust and exhaust all their options before resorting to imports. We would rather have temporary shortages causing local producers to innovate and benefit from that investment later on. In most cases, when they don’t find what they want, consumers tend to adjust their preferences. However, there are cases where compelling forces nudge consumers to go for cheaper commodities. For instance, low disposable income can over-power the superior taste and organic nature of local products, prompting people to buy foreign food because it is affordable.
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