Farmers trust word of mouth more than other forms of communication
From a recent research conducted by eMKambo and the Zimbabwe Economic Analysis Research Unit (ZEPARU), a surprising discovery was that although there has been so much investment in ICTs, farmers still trust word of mouth as their main means of communication. They find word of mouth less costly especially when used within a dialogue. For most farmers, communication is still more about dialogue which is a combination of face to face and word of mouth.
As shown in figure 1 (below), 41% of farmer respondents indicated their preference for word of mouth. At 24 %, calling traders also shows the significance of word of mouth. Through calling, farmers engage in deep dialogue with traders. Use of word of mouth was higher in Bulawayo markets (37.3%), followed by Harare (29.9%), Mutare (19.4%) and Gweru (11.9%) respectively. Also significant was the proportion of farmers who just went to the market without sufficient information on market dynamics. This showed that farmers still rely on their instincts to make marketing decisions.
Feedback from the eMKambo Call Centre also show that if a word of mouth goes through a mobile phone, a farmer more information within 30 seconds than using short message services which, besides limited content, is not engaging enough. The dominance of dialogue and word of mouth among farmers proves the power of interpersonal relationships which cannot be replaced by ICTs. Every communication loop among farmers is satisfactorily completed by meeting face to face where body language and illustrations say more about an individual’s feelings about a particular issue.
“ICTs are important in providing immediate input but detailed accounting requires face to face. ICTs can provide insights on particular commodity trends. But participating in the market where discussions range from quality, weather, taste and customer preferences requires face to face. For quick decision making ICTs are useful but detailed dialogue requires face to face. You can’t be satisfied with a 10 minute dialogue over the phone where there are no visual features and comparisons. While short message services emphasize the shortness and quickness of messages, useful agricultural conversations are often long. Even if a farmer receives information about market prices for tomatoes over the phone, s/he will still need to find out more from the buyer why some tomatoes cost more. ICTs become useful after face to face relationship building. Most relationships built over mobile phones still need to be authenticated through face to face with ICTs fulfilling follow-up activities,” said one farmer.
Farmers’ power to look for customers
The research also revealed that methods used by farmers to obtain reliable customers is a key determinant of a farmer’s bargaining power. Unfortunately, the majority of farmers just carry their produce to the main market and hope to get customers as shown in figure 2 (below). This practice renders farmers vulnerable to market conditions.
Methods used to market products
The research also showed that farmers have limited options for market their produce at the main markets, which also limits their bargaining power. Most of the farmers sell their produce through the auction floor, while others sell directly to farmers in the wholesale market on their own. However, about 27% said they relied on middlemen before the opening of the auction floors. This generally shows farmers’ vulnerability, especially since they cannot control the auction floor and neither do they have much bargaining power over auctioneers. Only 10% of the farmers indicated that they pursue independent selling methods such as cash, dealing with wholesalers and retailers, dealing directly with the end customers and putting products in the shops. About 73.4% of the farmers did not have contracts with retailers, traders or manufacturers. About 14.2% of the farmers did not respond to the question. The 12.4% who indicated that they have contracts mentioned retailers, schools, hospitals and other traders rather than manufacturing firms.
Although contracts seem to present opportunities for farmers, some farmers had reservations on the effectiveness of contracts with retailers. Some indicated that it is difficult to plan production with retailers because they order small quantities of produce and seek replenishment orders only when they have finished selling. Sometimes retailers reduce the price for replenishment orders yet on the side of the farmer the input prices would not have gone down, hence affecting the viability of farmers. In addition, some farmers highlighted that contracts were partial and not fair in the sense that contractors had greater bargaining power relative to the farmer. It was also mentioned that some contractors do not release inputs on time and this affects production. The need for flexible contracts was also highlighted.
Markets used by farmers to sell their products
About 53.2% of the farmers highlighted that they use the main agriculture markets like Mbare, Sakubva and Shasha (Bulawayo) while 20.4% preferred selling at farm gates and local markets. Roadside markets were used by about 15 % of the respondents as shown in figure 3 (below). However, it was important to note that more respondents from Bulawayo indicated that they use the roadside market. This could mainly be because the main market in Bulawayo is by the road side.
Are farmers participating in their preferred markets?
Only 27.2% of the respondents indicated that they were participating in their preferred markets. The rest (excluding 7.1% who did not respond) indicated that they were not participating in their preferred markets due to a number of constraints which include the following:
- Transport challenges (costs and accessibility).
- Financial Constraints.
- Fierce competition in the markets.
- Low demand for their products.
- Long distance to the markets.
- Unavailability of accommodation close/ at the market places.
- Lack of information about the market (prices and product demand).
- Language barriers.
- Late payment for delivery of goods.
- Afraid of the middleman (makoronyera).
- Size of the market is too big for smallholder farmers to participate due to the sheer volumes demanded.
Issues affecting women in agriculture markets
Challenges mentioned as affecting women in the agricultural markets include the following:
- Family burden makes it difficult for women as they have to attend to children and commodities at the same time;
- Bringing produce to the market is difficult for women. For instance, travelling at night makes women vulnerable to theft and harassment;
- It is more expensive for women to participate in the market as they have to hire additional labour for loading and offloading of goods;
- Middlemen mainly target women;
- Men are given first preference in allocation of market stalls;
- There are no safety clothing for women;
- Abusive language by men;
- Harassment by male counterparts and touts;
- Child minding at the market makes it difficult for women to focus on selling as well as watching their children;
- No decent places to sleep; and,
- Poor sanitation facilities affect women more than men.
Given that loading and offloading takes a lot of energy, women farmers often incur extra costs compared to their male counterparts. For example, they have to pay more for labour for loading and offloading, which implies that they have to fork out money for every process involved in delivering their produce to the market. Men avoid these costs by doing the work themselves. Properly organizing and regulating the market would eliminate some of these challenges.
eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6.