Why there should be clear criteria for positioning actors within food systems

Why there should be clear criteria for positioning actors within food systems

Like knowledge and other valuable resources, land, water and labour should be managed professionally. For developing countries, the starting point can be crafting growth-oriented and future-focused criteria for allocating land to different classes of farmers. That will prevent land, water and other resources from losing value rapidly as a result of failure to match production with market demands.

Unlocking investment local and external investment

Instead of giving land to people who endlessly queue for government inputs every farming season, special models can be designed for business-oriented leasing. This can include a shareholding model where, people who want to farm from the diaspora without owning land can easily invest in producing particular value chains for which there is a market. As part of creating an enabling environment, government can invest in critical infrastructure such as irrigation and warehousing so that those in the diaspora or local youth can invest in properly organized production with clear pathways for sharing benefits and costs. Just as many people prefer renting a house than owning it, several people are comfortable with renting land and moving on to other areas in response to market demands.

What to grow, when and for who?

A key feature of organizing food systems is ensuring there is control and guidance in terms of what to grow, when, for who and in what quantities? Land and soils should be mapped and the right regulations or policies put in place to guide farmers or investors what to grow, where and for whom as informed by the big picture from the market. Inputs-driven command and control systems may not be the best way of managing farmers and production because such systems rarely speak to the market in most African countries. If there are clear rules and regulations informed by mapping of soils and water, no one would just wake up and put 20ha of fertile soils under cabbage when such land would be suitable for sweet potatoes, peas or any other high value commodity.

Sound criteria for placing value chain actors within food systems would also assist in rationalizing the utilization of resources by creating belts or zones for particular commodities. For instance, if a belt or zone for wheat production is identified, resources like combine harvesters would not have to travel more than 30km between scattered wheat farmers but be shared by close farmers in one belt or zone. The same arrangement can be applied to small grains where once a particular zone is identified and supported, resources for harvesting and value addition can be provided centrally. This addresses numerous cases where processing or value addition machinery is beyond the reach of many farmers.

The market is about planning and consistency

There is a wrong notion that mass markets do not need planning as seen by how most farmers just show up with commodities without consulting buyers or end users. In fact, mass markets plan their needs quietly and the onus is on farmers to find out what is really happening invisibly.  The market is often good at punishing farmers who do not plan their production to ensure consistency in supplying particular commodities.

It is important to introduce rules and principles of trading in all markets. This will discipline value chain actors and minimize avoidable gluts or shortages which often render planning very difficult for people keen to invest in food systems. Farmers should be answer questions like: Which market are you targeting when planting 10ha of sweet potato? Most smallholder farmers are often not good at answering such questions because their production planning is often influenced by emergencies like paying school fees and buying inputs for the next season.  But there is no excuse for large scale farmers to produce without communicating with the markets.

Ideally, large scale farmers should have their own market so that they do not abuse their economies of scale to push out small farmers from the market. By selling directly to consumers or mass markets, big farmers are not creating meaningful employment. They should sell to other value chain actors like processors and wholesalers who create employment along value chains. If large scale farms were really productive they would have resuscitated the manufacturing or processing industry in countries like Zimbabwe because all critical resources are available including foreign currency.

Providing market options does not only release pressure from mass markets but also provides a growth path for food systems at national levels. Given the number of years they have been producing peas, tomatoes and other commodities, most farmers in Mashonaland East province of Zimbabwe would now be producing directly for export because knowledge and other resources are abundant. This is not happening due to absence of a clear growth path.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

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