Markets: Missing link for smallholder farmers


He could see men and women working in the fields, little moving dots against the bright green of maize plants. Mariga felt at peace here – the sound of the river soothed him and eased his frustrations.
At times like this, he sometimes takes out his notebook and writes. He dreams about making a film about life in his Negomo Village of Mazowe District, in Mashonaland Central Province.

It is going to be an angry film reflecting his feelings about a community which has failed to provide him a decent livelihood.
Every day this year, Mariga has won his faded yellow shirt, no matter the temperature.
As he gazes at the seemingly lifeless blue sky, he awaits a tomorrow which is the same as today and yesterday.

He only hopes that the situation will improve. But, there is also the real fear that things might get worse.

Mariga, a young man in his mid-20s, has not had a steady job since leaving high school.
He has a wife and one child, and the burden of supporting them weighs heavily on him.
He blames the limited horizons of the village society and what he calls the narrow-mindedness of his fellow communities for his predicament.
“There is nothing here and nobody starts anything. This community needs to be changed,” he fumes.

He is not alone in this frustration. To be young in this village is to run the risk of being unemployed. “What is there to do here?”, demands Mariga.The Agriculture Trade and marketing Project, implemented by ZimTrade between 2009-2010, was one such avenue that dedicated its efforts to improving smallholder farmers’ access to markets.
“Outsiders may think it’s very rosy here, with all these hills and the river, but if you lived here, you would want to get out.”

Getting out is high on the priorities of the young men in the area.
The towns and cities are like magnet pulling them with visions of steady jobs and growing incomes.

But once they get there, many find that a job in the urban area is not the solution to their problems.

The incomes are not that good, and the jobs are even difficult to get.
Although work is hard to come by in Negomo, a number of people have managed to employ themselves through small-scale horticulture production.
“I grow crops like tomatoes, green vegetables, green beans, onions and oranges,” says 41 -year-old Violet Kahari.

She is one of the 296 co-operative members at Negomo Irrigation Scheme.
She sells her produce to large scale agricultural trade and marketing companies. She is a beneficiary of an agri-business project that she participated in between 2009 and 2010.
“It is this new found marketing and farming knowledge that I later used productively and profitably to access more demanding markets,” she added.
With the US$1 200 she got from her four 0,2 hectare farming plots in December last year, Kahari has managed to buy kitchen ware,10 bags of fertiliser, a 21-inch colour television set and a DVD.

“I am now able to fend for my three children. I also bought stationery, paid school fees on time as compared to previously when I would struggle to pay.”
Before, there was an absence of ready markets for the farmers’ horticulture products, affecting the viability of the scheme, with some of the smallholder farmers considering abandoning the business.

“Accessing food has vastly improved because I can now purchase sugar, cooking oil, soap and flour in cartons, a development I never dreamt of,” said Kahari.
Overall, the project facilitated the farmers to improve on production, processing and marketing of horticulture crops.

The participating farmers are now able to negotiate with potential buyers such as boarding schools, supermarkets, hospitals and other companies in Harare and Bindura.
Each of Negomo Irrigation Scheme’s 296 farmers has 1,2 ha (0,5 ha citrus, 0,5 ha food crops and 0,2 ha other crops).

All the farmers use sprinkler irrigation, each with five sprinklers to enable all-year round productivity. It was established in 1997 with funding and technical support from KFW (German donors) in partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe.
Between 1990 and the year 2000, the horticulture sector was the second largest agricultural foreign exchange earner after tobacco.
At its peak in 1999, export earnings from the sector were US$144 million, according to the

Horticulture Promotion Council of Zimbabwe.

But, can smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe really benefit from the expanding markets for high-value horticulture products?
Sustained economic and income growth, a fast growing urban population, and the increasing integration of global agri-food markets are fuelling rapid growth in demand for high-value food commodities in the country.

This is an opportunity for farmers, especially smallholders, in the country to augment their incomes and use surplus family labour in the production of high-value, labour-intensive horticulture crops.

The transition to high-value agriculture, however, is unlikely to be smooth.
One of the major impediments is smallholder farmers’ lack of access to markets for high-value commodities.

Local rural markets are thin, and trading in distant urban markets is not remunerative owing to high transportation and transaction costs.
Besides, they also face challenges in gaining access to credit, high-quality inputs, improved technology, information and services.

Improving smallholder farmers’ access to markets requires close linkages between farmers, processors, traders, and retailers to co-ordinate supply and demand.
Institutions such as co-operatives, producers’ associations, and contract farming are important means of linking producers with markets, as well as a source of credit, inputs, technology, information and services.

But there is concern that smallholder farmers may be excluded from the institution-driven value chains.

Agribusiness firms, to reduce the transaction costs of contracting with a large number of smallholder farmers, for example, have tended to contract with a few large producers who can supply large volumes and are capable of complying with food-quality standards.
There is also a fear that agribusiness firms may exploit smallholder farmers by manipulating the terms and conditions of contracts to their benefit.

Nonetheless, there is growing evidence that the advantages associated with institutional marketing outweigh its disadvantages.

The Agriculture Trade and marketing Project, implemented by ZimTrade between 2009-2010, was one such avenue that dedicated its efforts to improving smallholder farmers’ access to markets.

It worked with more than 1 200 smallholder farmers in selected six provinces of Zimbabwe to facilitate them to access more demanding local, regional and international horticulture markets.

ZimTrade is the national trade development and promotion organisation.
It is a unique joint venture partnership between the private sector and the Government of Zimbabwe. It was established in 1991.

“The overall objective of the project was to increase horticulture exports from Zimbabwe and contribute to poverty reduction of smallholder farmers thereby boosting the country’s macro-economy,” says Crispen Tsvarai, ZimTrade Acting Chief Executive Officer.
Tsvarai also says, “Project activities focused on training in export marketing, market linkages and quality certification.

Ultimately, smallholder farmers were expected to sell their products and learn to produce products that would give them a premium on the market.”
Insukamini Irrigation Scheme in Lower Gweru, in the Midlands Province, is one of the schemes which participated in the agricultural trade and marketing project. Its 111 members currently face challenges in accessing markets.

Despite high demand for horticulture products in Zimbabwe, smallholder farmers at Insukamini have said they are facing difficulties in accessing sustainable markets.
They said there was market manipulation at the Gweru City Produce market by touts who act as middle men between farmers and vendors.

There is also foreign competition, according to Mollyne Majazi, a member of the 22-year-old Insukamini Irrigation Scheme.
“The competition is mainly from South Africa and consists of largely fresh produce,” said Majazi.

She has a 0,5 ha plot where she grows cabbages, carrots, butter nuts, soya beans and potatoes. She can get up to US$5 000 per year if she produces mostly high-value horticulture crops.

The irrigation scheme was established in 1989 as part of the Government of Zimbabwe funded national resettlement programme.
Farmers were initially selected from communal areas based on demonstrated farming ability on dry land.

The scheme has a membership register and a written constitution which governs operations. An elected chairperson leads operations at the scheme.
Chairperson of the scheme, Silindeni Hlomani, points out, “Smallholder farmers should exploit the export market and engage in contract farming. This will see us taking farming as a business.”

In Sarutani Village, in Chief Hwata,in Ward 22 of Nyanga District in Manicaland Province, Josephine Chindanga farms her 0,2 ha plot of horticulture crops that have kept her busy as a smallholder farmer, and she has no regrets.
Gazing over her lush field of vegetables about to be harvested, Chindanga beams with satisfaction.

“A good season can produce more than US$1000 worth of vegetables,” she says,” and this looks like a good season. I don’t feel the effects of price increases on food as do other people in towns,” she says.

Chindanga is one of the successful farmers in this rural Nyanga village. An ambitious farmer always eager to find ways to boost her agricultural production, Chindanga says she lacks three things – agricultural inputs, machinery such as power driven cultivators and access to credit.

However, the production and marketing requirements for horticulture products are much different than for staple foods.

Production of most high-value horticulture crops is capital and information intensive, and because these products are perishable, they are prone to higher market and price risks.
“Lack of access to markets for high-value horticulture commodities is a major challenge to small farm diversification toward high value food commodities,” says Tsvarai.

The perishability of high-value commodities necessitates their immediate transfer to consumption centres or markets or transformation into less perishable products.
Local rural markets for high-value food commodities are thin, and the marketable surplus of individual smallholder farmers is too small to be traded economically in distant markets owing to high transportation costs.

In addition, lack of infrastructure such as roads, refrigerated transport, and cold storage, is a major barrier to smallholder farmers’ participation in the production and marketing of high-value horticulture commodities.

Evidence shows that the spread of high- value agriculture is poor in areas with poor road networks.

A lack of road connectivity leads to delays in transferring produce to market centres, quantitative and qualitative losses in farm produce, and higher transportation and transaction costs, which act as a disincentive to smallholder farmers and agro-processors to invest in high-value horticultural production and processing.

Policy makers should therefore create a level playing field to allow the growth of the right kind of market institutions, promote competition among various market players and institutions, protect smallholder farmers from institutional exclusion and unscrupulous trade practices, and support them with credit, insurance, technology, and services to improve their competitiveness and ensure food safety for consumers.

Policies should also focus on improving public infrastructure that generates widespread economic benefits.


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