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Bahati Tweve: The honest 'middleman' brokering deals

Market investigator Bahati Tweve, who helps farmers get better prices (Linking Local Learning)
Market investigator Bahati Tweve, who helps farmers get better prices
Linking Local Learning

Bahati Tweve, a farmer in the southern highlands of Tanzania, is also known locally as a Mkulima shushushu: a market spy. Tweve helps his fellow farmers gather market intelligence: information on prices, the types of produce in demand, the quantity and quality of produce, and potential buyers. Armed with this information, farmers are able to make informed choices about what to supply and bypass the middlemen, who prey on their lack of market knowledge.

Strengthening market linkages
is at the core of the Tanzanian government's efforts to improve rural livelihoods in a seven-year IFAD-supported initiative known as the Agricultural Marketing Systems Development Programme (AMSDP).
The First Mile Project is built on the foundations established by AMSDP, particularly on its work to strengthen the organisation, leadership and financial management of producer groups.
Many of the best ideas for helping small farmers get better access to markets have grown from the work of small support teams established by AMSDP in 14 districts of Tanzania.

Market investigators, like Tweve, have been supported by the First Mile Project, which helps small farmers, traders, processors and others from poor rural areas build market chains. "We are satisfied because we are all aware of what is taking place in the market," says Tweve. "I work openly and farmers know what I am going to get out of the deal."

First Mile provides training in how to develop market chains and to use the internet to share knowledge, generate locally-developed good practices in building market chains, and improve market access and information. These groups have played a key role in linking farmers with others in the market chain. Project leader Clive Lightfoot, says, "You need a group that is doing market research, looking for new commodity opportunities, seeing where the new avenues are opening, what changes are happening with technologies. Someone has to get the information and get it out there to the farmers."

New technologies

Many farmers in Tanzania lack information on market prices leaving them at the mercy of middlemen (IFAD)
Many farmers in Tanzania lack information on market prices leaving them at the mercy of middlemen
IFAD

The use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) has revolutionised the way information is acquired. Tweve's mobile phone is an important way of receiving and circulating market information, especially in distant markets. He uses it to speak to contacts to acquire the information he needs, and to keep in contact with the farmers who benefit from his services. Middlemen rarely reveal information to farmers on buyers and the price for which they will purchase the produce. Passing on this information to farmers, putting them in direct contact with buyers puts them in a stronger bargaining position.

Using the internet has also enabled local groups to learn through experience and discussion, and share knowledge and best practice through the Linking Local Learners initiative. Lightfoot believes that the ability to exchange information with peers has enabled farmers to become more innovative in their problem solving.

While internet access and mobile phone use is still limited, 'low-tech' communication channels - face-to-face meetings and village billboards - ensure everyone has access to market information.

The impact

While the use of ICTs has undoubtedly helped in the exchange of knowledge and information, the real success of the project has resulted from building trust and collaboration between all stakeholders along the market chain. The development of these relationships through increased communication and transparency has enabled farmers and others to develop relevant local knowledge and share it.

Farmer Matilda Arnoldi Mushi has discovered that being better informed is empowering: "We are no longer ignorant. When middlemen come and say 10,000 shillings, while in Dar the maize sells for 30,000, we say 'no'. We are now in a position to bargain fairly."

By strengthening the market chain, farmers and traders can benefit (WRENmedia)
By strengthening the market chain, farmers and traders can benefit
WRENmedia

From January to mid-February 2006, five farmers' associations sold 70 tonnes of maize for US$143 per tonne using mobile phones, market "spies" and price updates broadcast on local radio stations. In the same period, farmers without market information sold their maize for just US$65 per tonne. The use of "spies", and enabling farmers to negotiate with bigger traders, has helped eliminate the cheating and mistrust that previously hindered trade.

Paying for services

Although farmers are convinced of the benefits of the services provided, the challenge ahead is the willingness of clients to pay for the services once funding from the First Mile Project ends in 2009.

In an effort to meet the challenge, Tweve, together with two others, have set up Mufundi Rural Marketing Service Company (MURUMASE), which links buyers to producers for a commission. Moving from a public project to a private enterprise, MURUMASE has had to face the challenge of covering costs. This was a lesson quickly learnt during their first deal, sourcing timber for plank buyers. However, despite raising their commission fees, Tweve insists that both the plank buyers and sawmill owners are willing to pay higher commissions, as the benefits of his 'linkage' service outweigh the costs incurred.

As well as charging commission, plans to raise revenue include charging both buyers and sellers to advertise on information boards and fees for timber storage. The real test for MURUMASE will therefore be getting the financing they need to grow the business and continue building market chains and disseminating market intelligence throughout Mufundi.

With contributions from: Yussuf Kajenje and Clive Lightfoot

Date published: July 2008

 

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The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

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