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Making markets work for the poor

For the past ten years, research funded by the UK's Department for International Development through its Crop Post-Harvest Programme (DFID CPHP) has looked at some of the barriers that keep the world's poorest people from bringing their goods to market. These include storage and transport issues, the availability of market information, trust within the food chain, food quality, and food safety. Much of the research has brought about change and improved people's access to markets, but many problems remain to be resolved. To raise awareness of these issues, the two-day international seminar Beyond Agriculture: Making Markets Work for the Poor, organised by Natural Resources (NR) International and Practical Action*, brought together in London a broad spectrum of participants to discuss the road to market. Points of View highlights some of the key issues raised during the meeting.

*As from July 2005, Practical Action is the new name for the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG).

A difficult road out of poverty

Producers can produce anything, but to get to the market is a long trip, and that is where we need to direct our efforts, the trip to the market.
Duncan Warren, Crop Production Director, National Smallholders Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM)

I think to really get poor smallholder farmers out of poverty there is absolutely no other way than to link them to markets. Only if they can bring their harvests to market will they have a chance to generate income to get out of poverty and attend to all the other needs.
Mpoko Bokanga, Executive Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)

Whilst trade and marketing play an important role in reducing poverty, there are a lot of risks involved. We may be able to help poor farmers take more risks and earn more money, but food production for home consumption, particularly in increasingly risky environments with climatic variations, will remain vital. So we have to caution against charging headlong into, 'We've all got to sell stuff and work out the markets'.
Andrew Jowett, Director, Harvesthelp

We are working with over 100,000 farmers, with each of them producing under different conditions. Then you have the different characteristics of the produce that they are coming with, and you aggregate it into huge volumes for sale on the market. Now to try to trace it backwards to an individual farmer is really asking too much, and I find it very difficult to request things like that. We are striving to do it, but it is complex and quite a long haul.
Duncan Warren, Crop Production Director, National Smallholders Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM)

One of the key constraints is that, if our farmers only view farming as a way of life and not as a business, they will fail to appreciate some of the principles and skills that are required when managing a business and the way you interact and engage with others.
Tafadzwa Marange, Regional Co-ordinator, Southern Africa, DFID Crop Post-Harvest Programme

Finding the way forward

I think market access has enormous potential to address poverty. But in terms of how we are going to address it, the single most important thing is creativity. We have to be very creative. We must drop all our old ideas or beliefs and really go at it with very clear conviction and open-mindedness.
K. S. Gopal, Centre for Environment Concerns (CEC)

We often underestimate the local knowledge that people already have. I have met traders in West Africa who do not have formal education but are multilingual and numerate, and they can trade in different currencies. We should build on what they already know rather than assume that, because they are not educated, they don't know anything about trade.
Hilary Warburton, International Team Leader, Reducing Vulnerability Programme, ITDG, UK

Farmers know how to produce products to a high standard. We should never underestimate farmers. They know what is good. They don't always understand what the consumer wants, and this is where they have a problem. And getting that information to the individual farmer, so they can understand exactly what people want maybe thousands of miles away, is quite difficult.
David Walker, Project Leader, Natural Resources Institute (NRI)

Probably along the value chain there is a regulatory role to be played by governments. So, unless regulation is taken care of, I don't think any of the other interventions will take us to the goal that we are aiming at.
Jayantha Gunasekera, Team Leader, Markets & Livelihoods Programme, ITDG South Asia

We've found that there is a real bottleneck with the local private sector, the people moving the goods into urban or overseas markets from small-scale producers. And the only incentive to change from traditional distribution patterns is going to be if they can increase efficiencies in their own buying chain. So we need to find ways in which moving goods from small-scale producers to private-sector distributors or exporters can increase the efficiency of distribution.
Edward Milliard, Senior Advisor, Sustainable Landscapes, Conservation International

Making markets work for the poorest

The poor are both producers and consumers. Often there is a very low price after harvest, when people sell their goods, and they have to buy them back again in the lean season at very high prices. So any interventions that we can make that will reduce the fluctuations in price will help poor consumers.
Hilary Warburton, International Team Leader, Reducing Vulnerability Programme, ITDG, UK

There are various levels of markets, and I am here to see which market is actually going to work for the poor. So, it's not road to market. It's actually road to which market? I find here that we are talking about domestic mass markets, which are definitely the answer for the poor in developing countries. It's certainly not the export market. It's certainly not the local market. But it is something in between.
Guru Naik, Director, Christian Children's Fund, India (previously with Livelihood Solutions)

Putting in our resources to address the problems of the poorest of the poor needs a different approach altogether. Their resources and their capacity to venture into the markets are very limited, and therefore all our efforts usually end up not achieving the desired results. So we advocate working with the motivated farmers, and through that the results will trickle down to the poorest of the poor and will pull them up as well.
Duncan Warren, Crop Production Director, National Smallholders Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM)

How do we help the poor? We must facilitate the top also and the middle also so they can purchase what the poor farmer has produced.
Kwasi Oware, Chairman, Ghana Rural Cassava/Sweet Potato Producers Association

If you are going to engage in a market chain you have to be able to take some risk. It may well be that the very poorest of the poor are not people who can engage in market chains easily. But there are many ways that markets and the processes that support market chains can benefit poor people.
Jim Harvey, Head, Livelihoods Advisors, Department for International Development (DFID)

All moving together

If you want to try to develop markets, it's important to work at both ends - both at the producers' and the consumers', and with all the intermediaries and research organisations. And then determine what linkages are strong and where are they weak, so that people can work on those linkages over a period a time and make them strong.
Shambu Prasad, Director, Centre for Research on Innovation and Science Policy (CRISP)

Policymakers should be more responsive towards ensuring market access for poor people. And I think some kind of policy should be considered to make institutions more responsive to poor people who are engaged in production.
Abdul Rob, Markets and Livelihoods Programme, ITDG Bangladesh

We really have to collaborate to bring poor farmers closer to whatever we do, so that we do demand-driven research. Because it is only when farmers, researchers and extension officers come together that we will be able to develop processes that will help the market.
Professor E. Owuse-Bennoah, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Ghana

If you look at Mozambique, for example, infrastructure like roads and storage facilities are not there. Or, if they are there, they are very poor. So we need to show governments that it is important to rehabilitate all that infrastructure so that the private sector will be more involved in the process.
Alfredo Chaumusso, Project Manager, CARE Mozambique

The issue of market access is going to depend on farmer organisations. One role for the public domain is to ensure that farmers are organised and that the issue of standards is brought to bear so that farmers are able to access markets. If they are organised, small-scale farmers will be able to produce better quality products in a sustainable manner.
Joseph Orykot, Technical Services Manager, National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAADS), Uganda

I think most of us focus on quick gains that might be achieved now, but the development of markets needs sustained support for at least 5-10 years. So assuring sustainability is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Zinash Sileshi, Senior Resource Person, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)

Date published: July 2005


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