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Collective Marketing For Small Holder Farmers A Solution For Improving Livelihoods

Collective Marketing

"We sold our sorghum at 700 shillings per kilogram when other farmers in our area sold theirs at only 500 shillings per kilogram."

Par Pi Ocan Farmer Field School (FFS) group comprises of 30 farmers (10 men and 20 women) who came together in 2009 to work as a group and to help each other. This increased our social capital, particularly old women who were not be able to undertake some activities and were missing opportunities. As a group, we selected sorghum – of the Epuripuri variety – as the key crop for us to focus on for collective marketing. Individual group members bought the seeds from agents of the Farmers’ Centre – 14 members (11 women and 3 men) and they successfully produced and bulked 1,680 kilograms of sorghum.

Through collective marketing our 14 members were able to sell their sorghum produce at  700 shillings per kilogram; a price which was 200 shillings more than the 500 shillings per kilogram that other farmers in our area got when they sold their sorghum produce individually. We are proud that we were able to achieve such success.

As a group, we assigned our marketing committee to look for a buyer who was offering a good price. Our marketing committee is the one which gathered information on prices through radio – notably, Radio Rhino FM and Voice Lango FM; through visits to the buyers mentioned in the radio spots; as well as talking to middlemen who were combing the area in search for produce. Our 14 members who collectively marketed their sorghum produce covered the costs for transport and mobile telephone airtime for our marketing committee. This investment turned out worthwhile for it led to the identification of the Farmers Centre as the buyer that we would deal with.

Farmers Center was interested in quality produce – well dried grain that is free of foreign matter. In order to ensure that our members’ produce met the required quality standards that were set by the buyer, our 14 members who participated in collective marketing decided to grow the same variety of sorghum.

They also set up a schedule which ensured that they assisted each other throughout the production process, particularly in the harvesting of the crop, placing the sorghum heads in bags, transporting the sorghum from the field to the homesteads and spreading them on tarpaulins to dry under the sun.

When the sorghum was sufficiently dried to meet the set standards, each of the participating 14 members ensured that they delivered it to our chosen collection centre – a room provided by one of the members. At the collection centre, each bag was labelled for ease of ownership identification in the future and it was put in storage. The bags of sorghum were weighed on the day the buyer came to buy and to take the produce.

This story was shared by members of Par Pi Ocan FFS Group on 14th February 2014, during an impact assessment of CPAR Uganda’s Farmers First (FF) Programme that it implemented in Dokolo and Alebtong Districts in Lango, Northern Uganda. Par Pi Ocan is located in Oket Village, Teyawo Parish, Bata Sub-County, Dokolo District. The group shared their story with Mr. Godfrey Kayobyo, an independent Consultant. The FF Programme was funded by the Canadian Government through the Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief.

Why CPAR Uganda thinks this a story of significant positive change:

The group adopted the practice of growing the same crop variety and best practice in post harvest handling which are critical for harmonising production and ensuring quality of produce; a key factor in accessing remunerative markets.

Labelling of bags is a good practice for traceability of produce to original home/source.

The group used its marketing committee to look for a buyer and they contributed to the cost of finding a buyer who offers better terms. Often groups assume that this is a free service that should be provided to them for free by development agencies – facilitating farmers to market together is a service that a number of NGOs have been providing for free. That the group self-reliantly facilitated its marketing committee is a clear indication that the group has laid a good foundation for its future collective action, post the FF programme.

The story of Par Pi Ocan supports the findings of a 2014 CPAR Uganda survey which found that 74 percent of FFS groups that participated in the FF programme were engaged in collective marketing through their parish level structures and that some had succeed in establishing commercial relationship with produce buying and processing companies.

The story demonstrates the increased abilities among farmers in relating with other value chain actors in the crops which they produce and the increased confidence of the other actors in farmers who have organised themselves in marketing collectives.

It can be deduced from the story of Par Pi Ocan that group marketing is impacting positively on the income levels of farmers. Farmers who bulked and collectively marketed their produce received better prices as compared to those who sold unilaterally. Indeed, farmers who participated in the focus group discussions during the CPAR Uganda Participatory Impact Assessment asserted that their incomes had increased due to increased production and better marketing skills. Within their collectives they are empowered with market information and they better negotiate the sales prices for their produce.

Contextualised on a global context, the story Par Pi Ocan is of significance considering that changes in world markets and trade liberalisation have left smallholder farmers more vulnerable to the vagaries of market forces. Among which are weak organisational structures and high transaction costs due to long and inefficient supply chains which significantly limit the capacity of farmers to sustain supply to large buyers who often require assured variety, quantity and quality of products. Smallholder farmers have generally been locked out of organized lucrative markets, while they are conditioned to sell their produce through an exploitative chain of agents at very low farm-gate prices.

Collective action if properly institutionalised among smallholder farmers can improve their marketing in a number of ways, some of which are demonstrated in the story of Par Pi Ocan. Collective marketing can reduce transaction costs for taking produce to the market; increase the smallholders’ bargaining power and it can enable them to access services that the private sector and or government are not readily willing to invest in. Through collective action, farmers can improve quality of produce, reduce transaction costs and get better prices to improve their revenue – and this is the story to Par Pi Ocan.