When farmers who have spent years looking for satisfactory answers to their challenges finally get a solution, such a moment of truth becomes a moment of healing. A different feeling often embraces farmers when they finally discover that agriculture markets are always in a random walk such that price is just one part of a complex ecosystem influenced by several factors. They begin to realize that financial and non-financial resources as well as production volumes, surplus and frequency of participation in markets have a bearing on the behavior of agriculture markets.
Capacity assessment as the foundation for coordination
In addition to assessing availability of natural resources such as land and water, the ability of farmers to consistently supply a particular market has to consider their different capacities. If you want to enhance farmers’ skills in using available resources, you need to know their individual and collective capacities. Few initiatives are as difficult as trying to coordinate people with different capacities. Some farmers can become faster knowledge processors when they move to a different commodity while some can behave differently.
eMKambo has repeatedly noticed that many African farmers no longer want basic advisory information but now require assistance in building networks, knowledge sharing platforms as well as conversing with the market, interpreting market trends and making sense of different market expectations. Farmers are now also keen to know about changing consumer patterns. They also now need support in processing data into budgets and other insights that can demonstrate returns on investing an agriculture. For such farmers, meaningful budgets should be accompanied by cash flows showing how much a farmer will remain with after using different inputs and selling commodities to particular markets. This is where a market becomes critical in providing information about revenue.
Academic budgets which leave out a lot of important contextual issues are becoming useless. For instance, a cabbage budget cannot be the same for farmers in different climatic conditions and proximity to markets. Some of the critical questions farmers are now keen to answer include:
- What should I consider when framing a budget?
- How do I know I am making a profit from my commodities?
- How can I charge for family labor?
- What has changed in the way I produce and market commodities over the past few years? This speaks to farming history.
Are farmer issues similar everywhere?
The only common thing among farmers everywhere is that they all need knowledge in order to produce better results. However, they cannot be the same everywhere due to different socio-economic drivers. For instance, farmers in border towns tend to have totally different stories about farming. Those in livestock areas also have different stories from predominantly crop farmers. Those in valleys that receive rainfall throughout the year also have different stories about agriculture. Even within the same area, there can be different stories from three to four farmers:
- Some have a lot of resources but do not want to farm, preferring to be a market for others.
- Others provide labor although they have their own land and other resources.
- Some use the land for subsistence just to keep the land working.
- Others farm to supplement income.
- Some do farming as a business and this group can constitute less than 10% of the people in a community. Although this group can grow cash crops, the first preference is meeting household needs. That is why some farmers end up locked in contracts.
In irrigation schemes, not everyone has capacity. Some may want to continue producing for household consumption, while other want to combine subsistence production with food reserves. Another cluster can comprise subsistence production with surplus for the market, although surplus for the market may be unplanned. The first preference is producing what they consume, for instance, leafy vegetables. On the other hand, transition to peas, sugar beans and potatoes demonstrates a change of mind set and germination of a commercial mindset. Assessing the capacity of farmers can increase chances of noticing those who are ready for commercialization.
eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6