Opportunities to enrich your agricultural decisions with data

With the importance of data and evidence in African agriculture gaining momentum, eMKambo has historical data that can enable diverse value chain actors to understand their agribusiness planning, budgeting and decision-making. Over the past five years, eMKambo (www.emkambo.co.zw) has been collecting data from more than 20 agricultural markets in Zimbabwe. Major parameters of the data existing include: Name of farmer; Contact details; Type of produce supplied to the market; Volumes supplied by each farmer; Source or farming area and gender of the farmer. Also available are historical and current daily market prices for more than 50 agricultural commodities that form a food ecosystem.

Data categories

You can get raw data in excel sheets for your own needs-based analysis as well as analyzed and interpreted evidence, covering for the following commodities:

Vegetables: Here the data covers a wide range of vegetables from staples to high value crops – cabbages, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, onion as well as peas, green beans, peppers green, yellow & red), garlic, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, lettuce and others.

Fruits: On the fruits side, existing data is on locally produced fruits like bananas, oranges, apples, avocado pears, pine apples, lemon as well as imported fruits like apples, plums, strawberries and others.

Tubers: sweet potatoes, yams (magogoya, madhumbe), potatoes, Livingstone potato (tsenza).

Wild fruits: Baobab fruit, tsvubvu, masawu, matohwe.

Field crops: maize, sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, green mealies and indigenous rice.

Legumes: sugar beans, soya beans, cow peas, groundnuts, roundnuts.

Other foods: sugar cane, madora, matemba, soya chunks, rabbits, honey and others.

Poultry and related products: broilers, layers, indigenous chickens, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowls, eggs and others.

14 ways in which the data can be used

  1. Matching agricultural production to consumption patterns, consumer tastes, preferences, market standards and quality expectations.
  2. Identifying periods of gluts and shortages as well as levels of competition at different periods.
  3. Showing responsiveness of particular commodities to changes in their own prices as well as responsiveness to demand, supply and prices of other commodities which may be complements or substitutes.
  4. Bringing out niche markets for various commodities as well as requirements of different niche markets in terms of volumes per given period.
  5. Showing supply corridors for different commodities.
  6. Indicating opportunities for value addition.
  7. Revealing seasonality and consistency in supply.
  8. Identifying value chain actors for collaboration and agribusiness modelling.
  9. Signaling climate change and community resilience.
  10. Showing revenue gathered in various markets and amounts going back to support agriculture and livelihoods in production areas.
  11. For academics – showing areas for research, learning and curricular development.
  12. For financiers – showing opportunities for targeted financing through farmer characterization and capacity assessment.
  13. For input suppliers – surfacing opportunities for targeted promotion of seed varieties, fertilizer, packaging material, equipment and other inputs.
  14. For processors – simplifying aggregation of commodities and ensure sufficient stock.


If interested get in touch through the following contacts:


charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / clever@knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0712 737 430/ 0774 430 309/0772 137 768

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com



Carving and sustaining economic identities in evolving agricultural ecosystems

While billions of dollars have gone into African agriculture, smallholder farmers and other food producers are yet to be characterized and structured in ways that give them a recognizable economic identity. Unless value chain actors have a clear economic identity, it will remain difficult for them to participate in a fast-moving global agricultural market where traditional advantages are being eroded. Carving an economic identity includes understanding local markets and accounting for surplus at farm gate. That way it becomes possible to see how much surplus is available for processing and regulate the entire agriculture industry.


Optimizing data capture, standards and integration

African agricultural policy makers have to invest in different avenues of generating and interpreting data in order to optimize data capture and integration.  For instance, a single smallholder farmer generates thousands of data points daily beyond basic details like size of household and farming category.  Integrating disparate data such as hundreds of decisions made by each farmer daily is very important.  Besides lack of standardization of data so that it becomes easy to share, data sharing is hampered by numerous factors, including inadequate financial and nonfinancial incentives. For example, regular data capturing and sharing has not been adequately written into job descriptions of government extension officers. These officers are only invited to participate in ad hoc crop and livestock assessments. As a result, it is impossible to introduce new and novel ways of gathering evidence in real time if potential data collectors are not equipped with the basics. Extension officers are not paid on the basis of data collection efforts, encouraging farmers to participate in research or conducting experiments but on high yields by farmers.

In addition to providing adequate data collection infrastructure and financial incentives, policy makers should improve data governance and introduce approaches that enable farmers and other value chain actors to participate directly in data gathering and sharing.  As if that is not enough, much of the data currently being collected by government departments, contract companies, mobile service providers and development organizations from farmers and rural communities lack some critical nuances that can pinpoint real solutions.

Aligning crop and livestock assessments with the market

Continuous data flow should be an integral part of the decision-making hygiene in agricultural value chains. It is not enough to assess crops and livestock in farming areas without extending such efforts to what is in the market and household food storage. Assessing food security among farmers and rural dwellers is not enough without considering deficit and surplus situations in urban populations. In most African countries, urban populations consume more than 50% of the food produced in each country. Most farmers do not consume as much as they produce due to post-harvest losses and a desire to earn income from selling to urban markets where buying power is concentrated.  Ideally, each community should have statistics showing how much is produced, sold and consumed locally.

Establishing a robust farmer characterization criteria

Trying to flesh economic identities for farmers by looking at the availability of resources like access to loans, soil, water, irrigation and pack shades is a common mistake by policy makers and financiers in African countries. A more complete economic identity can come from taking into account intangible attributes such as knowledge, attitudes, risk appetite, patience and other hidden factors. Due to absence of robust characterization, it is difficult to identify farmers who specialize in specific commodities who can then be upgraded to participate in export markets. Sampling 50 farmers from a total of more than five million to participate in exports is not a viable initiative.  The majority of farmers engage in trial and error by trying potatoes one season, cabbages next season and peas the following season, based on short-term incentives.

Informal markets as toll gates for food

Given the extent to which informal markets dominate the supply of food to urban consumers in most developing countries, an effective data collection system can turn these markets into a food toll gate that can efficiently inform the entire agricultural sector.  Introducing plastic money continues to be a challenge due to lack of a system that can enable the introduction of plastic money at the local farmers’ market and link it with other local actors before connecting with national institutions. In the absence of a system, a few informed actors continue to prey on the system and deprive farmers of benefits that should accrue to them. Collecting statistics for one commodity like tobacco and ignoring more than 50 other commodities translates to unbalanced economic decision-making. Strengthening the system starting from local farmers markets will make it easy to introduce an export facility directly to farmers. Farmers able to produce for export can be assessed from their participation in the local market.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

Succeeding through a secret mix of competencies and data

The fact that farmers and students exposed to the same capacity building initiatives produce different results suggests training alone does not lead to success. In the majority of developing countries, farmers in the same environment and with access to similar resources achieve different outcomes. On the other hand, agricultural economists and agronomists who did the same course can achieve different results. If it is difficult for sophisticated graduates to translate knowledge they have acquired during four years of university education, why should we expect farmers and semi-literate people to find it easy?


Limitations of trying to professionalize local indigenous knowledge

Instead of addressing structural and institutional barriers, African policy makers, private companies like seed houses and development agencies are blaming farmers for not adopting new technologies to lift themselves out of poverty. There is no realization that knowledge application is context-sensitive such that for many innovative farmers, it is a secret mix of competencies. That is why most of the farmers who are asked to describe what makes them succeed may not know what really contributes to their success but go on to share surface intuitions. If it is about hard work, every farmer works hard. While farmers and rural entrepreneurs are expected to share knowledge, each actor tends to have a secret set of skills and competencies hidden from the surface. Very few farmers and traders have the ability to apply what they know under pressure in order improve their level of quality. In the absence of clear market channels and processes, farmers can do everything right but face different prohibitive rules on the market.

Failure to account for contextual dynamics is one of the reasons why efforts by development actors to turn local indigenous knowledge into professional communication products like videos, manuals and formal reports is reaching a dead end. To the extent this effort does not take into account the value of the oral and fluid nature of local indigenous knowledge, it remains communication lipstick. For instance, aggregating commodities among smallholder farmers for the market is often very difficult due to different circumstances and needs among farmers. Some want to sell immediately while others may have other options like remittances from their children based in urban centres.

Benefits of a nuanced understanding of consumers

For food producers in developing countries, an important part of secret competencies is understanding consumers at a granular level.  This is where data and analytics become vital. Value chain actors who are beginning to embrace a culture of data collection and analysis are building a nuanced understanding of their customers. For instance, three classes of consumers are emerging in many African countries – those who want to go back to traditional food systems; those trying to balance traditional with modern food choices and; the last group comprising those not sure what they really want (lukewarm by-standers who consume whatever comes).  Efforts to promote organic food should consider these issues.

Knowing the market includes detailed characterization of consumers. Targeted marketing messages can only be developed from drilling down into detailed nuances of different classes of consumers based on their incomes levels and culture, among other indicators. Without digging deeper into the attitudes and behaviours of consumers, it is difficult for traders to plan and build sustainable businesses. Competencies in manipulating data can reveal more meaningful layers of insights into what influences choices by low income consumers who patronize African informal markets.  Although many consumers are becoming health-conscious, sporadic incomes and poverty often force them to consume whatever comes.


On a more revolutionary note, a new breed of dynamic value chain actors is harnessing ICTs to build data- informed businesses that undermine traditional agribusiness models like contract farming. This trend is transforming the nature of competition in African agriculture such that supermarkets and processors no longer have monopoly on consumers and market segments. Collecting data regularly in fluid informal markets is enabling smart value chain actors to capture patterns at a very detailed level in ways that cultivate a culture of fluid knowledge development. That is why policy makers, financial institutions and development agencies should invest in monitoring of agricultural markets for new insights and best practices.  Best practices in agricultural production are meaningless without insights from the market.


charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6


Using market intelligence to purposefully direct agricultural finance

Many developing countries are struggling to direct agricultural financing in more purposeful and moral ways. For instance, if contract farming was the main ticket out of poverty, most farmers who have been contracted to produce cotton, tobacco, sorghum and dozens of other commodities for generations would have completely moved out of poverty into sustainable self-reliance. The fact that progress has been unsatisfactory suggests a lot is still unknown. Rather than continue with traditional financing models where agricultural finance is put in banks, funders, including government, can consider alternative ways of directing capital towards improving communities as opposed to individuals.


Towards informed targeting

Targeted agricultural financing can result from accurately assessing demand patterns which are increasingly becoming diffuse. Unfortunately, banks are still using traditional ways of assessing financing decisions. For example they continue to prioritize availability of land, water, labour and other tangible assets. Unknown to financial institutions is that the definition of off-takers is evolving from referring to formal institutions like processing companies to encompass relationship-based niche markets whose characteristics can only be understood through robust evidence pathways.

A decision to set aside a US$50 million horticulture fund should be informed by evidence from the demand side. Without evidence such a decision can see that facility going to less than 30% of farming regions where horticulture is prevalent at the expense of other deserving production zones. As if that is not enough, putting that facility in traditional banking institutions is like putting new wine in old bottles. Besides prioritizing their own funding models, banks will ensure such financing is accessible to individuals as opposed to farming communities and irrigation schemes which do not have individual financial identities. The fact that farming communities and irrigation schemes are not taken as private companies implies they will not access such funding although they may produce better outcomes.

Cash model for informal markets

Just as farmers involved in the production of cash crops like cotton, cocoa, sugar cane and tobacco get first preference in accessing cash, actors in the informal markets such as farmers and traders should have a similar facility extended to them. That will add more meaningful value because a lot of cash circulates in informal African food markets every day. The fact that cotton and tobacco farmers handle cash once a year means that money does not circulate as fast and efficiently as in informal markets.  Absence of a cash facility is the main reason why cash is not flowing properly along informal market value chains.  Traders end up keeping cash within their networks. The end consumer buys commodities in cash from the vendor who also buys in cash from the trader who also buys in cash from the farmer. It means cash dominates the whole transaction process.  Other means of transacting are not available to consumers.

The farmer is the one who needs cash due to the absence of appropriate systems that can facilitate meeting of subsistence and other expenses such as school fees, medical expenses, transport and other uses which consume 70% of the farmer’s income.  The other 30% goes to inputs.  In the absence of appropriate transaction facilities, traders end up paying cash all the way.

Smoothening middle actors

There is need for a cash model that covers middle actors like traders. That can be an overnight or weekly facility, ensuring availability of cash when traders need it. Currently, when a trader buys from the farmer using cash, s/he sells to the vendors using cash. By 10 am or noon every day, the trader will have finished trading and now keeping money which could be put in a bank if a facility was available.  In some cases, traders who deal in bulk commodities like potatoes spend two to five days selling so that they build up cash for going back to the farmer. Ultimately the trader can go back to hoard commodities with $5000.  However, during the time the trader is trading, s/he could be putting his/her money in the bank and only withdraw when s/he needs to go and fetch the commodities.

A cash facility through banks can make this a viable option. The money should be in the bank and available on call. This model can sustain itself from the rate at which transactions take place (the velocity of transactions in informal markets). In this case, the speed of transactions becomes the main revenue stream. If such a facility is set up in informal agricultural markets, farmers who trade commodities like tomatoes over a week or two may see the wisdom of not taking money home every day but leave it in the bank. They can withdraw their money after a month when they want to buy inputs or invest in livestock.  Eventually, farmers and other market actors see the convenience of paying school fees and meeting other requirements through the facility.

Building a sensible agency banking model

A financial facility in the market can lay the foundation for sensible agency banking models to be built from the market. For instance, tomato farmers from different production areas can become connected with banks and other actors through the market via this self-contained financing model.  The facility can be membership-based in such a way that members are given special cards that entitle them to priority status like what happens in some financial institutions.  If tobacco farmers who do not use cash regularly have a special facility that enables them to withdraw $1000 a day, what about traders and farmers who handle cash every day? Since there are limited online facilities in most African farming areas, it is currently difficult to see how cash received by farmers producing cash crops like cocoa and tobacco travels along value chains. That is why a special agricultural marketing fund will stimulate agricultural growth.

Financial institutions can easily identify farmers and traders in need of loans based on their special accounts with the fund.  Ultimately farmers will bring cash into the banking system.  Loans to farmers can be transferred into value chain actors’ accounts but repayment will be in the form of cash. Other options like buying inputs can be built into the facility. The model will have special rights that support   sustainability. It will be membership-driven through subscriptions and enable purely cash-on-call. The facility will also make the introduction of plastic money smooth through nodes in the value chains.

Eventually farmers will see no need to continue carrying cash. A major value proposition for this facility is in the velocity of transactions. A super-agent or aggregator will be responsible for facilitating the process through, for instance, handling cash flow requests for each day. At the moment, most agency banking models are not connected to other value chain actors. For instance, there are no Point of Sale (POS) machines among the majority of service providers in most farming areas. That is why mobile money models are not reaching their potential. When traders send money to farmers and the farmers do not get that money through mobile money agents, the whole system is not worthwhile for actors. To avoid some of these challenges, the cash model can be backed by a revolving loan fund which anchors growth and sustainability.  If the market has $50 000 in circulation, the revolving fund can inject another $50 000, thus planting the seed for growth.

Getting the better of opportunists

Without smart ways of purposefully directing agricultural capital, opportunists will access finance at the expense of genuine aggregators who fully understand production and market dynamics. Most African countries currently do not have funding for genuine aggregators who can use their knowledge to build the capacity of producers so that they meet the deep needs of consumers.  Instead, a few opportunists masquerading as aggregators are keeping knowledge to themselves and simply taking commodities from farmers which they supply to super markets without adding much value except a bit of cleaning, grading and packaging. There has to be mechanisms for avoiding conflict of interest between aggregating and knowledge brokering. At the moment, African informal markets fulfill an important knowledge brokering role by ensuring information is not hidden from actors. This is unlike opportunists who thrive on information asymmetry. Carefully characterizing actors will make it possible to identify genuine aggregators who share knowledge with farmers and consumers in transparent ways.


Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

Learning from Invisible CoPs: The role of informal actors and relationships in African food systems


Climate change-induced food insecurity and global socio-economic instability compels us to continuously revisit   food demand and supply models, especially in developing countries. Conventional approaches like the notion of formal value chains are no longer enough to fully understand food systems. In many African countries, it seems invisible Communities of Practice (CoPs) such as informal markets offer new pathways of forging new relationships and interpreting realities around food. Rather than present food as a mere market commodity, these CoPs demonstrate the extent to which food is linked to people’s identities. On the other hand, modern value chain approaches seem limited to the economic sense and tend to over-simplify soft issues like knowledge, trust and relationships. Yet in most African informal markets, knowledge sharing adds more value than processing commodities into finished products. By fostering knowledge exchange between different commodities and people, informal markets build national food baskets supported by different food sources and values.

However, we cannot talk about food demand and supply models without mentioning the convening power of cities and urbanization. African cities like Harare, Lusaka, Nairobi, Maputo, Kampala, Kigali, Accra, Lagos, Addis Ababa, Lilongwe and Johanesburg, to mention just a few, provide larger ecosystems in which CoPs innovate, mingle, share and combine ideas from different vantage points and traditions. These cities draw together key sectors and economic drivers such as producers, transporters, buyers, processors, input suppliers, development agencies and government departments. Important players in this nexus are rural councils which are also contending with rapid urbanization.

KM4Dev gathering: Harare – 25 – 26th July 2017

Knowledge Transfer Africa (www.knowledgetransafrica / www.emkambo.co.zw) and its partners will be convening a Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) gathering in Harare (25 – 26 July 2017). The event seeks to inspire various actors and disciplines to engage and learn from the practices of informal food CoPs that connect production areas with urban consumers. While relationship-based food demand and supply models are increasing in many developing countries, lack of coherent knowledge pathways limits the extent to which these CoPs can influence development practice, theory and national food policies. Part of what remains unknown and unappreciated are informal food CoPs’ motivations, dynamic practices and contribution to regional and international food systems as well as the role of cities in food demand and supply.

From farmers to consumers or end-users, more than 70 percent of African food passes through informal food CoPs in informal markets based in cities. These CoPs and markets have become powerful sources of knowledge for farmers, traders and other actors. During the Harare KM4Dev gathering, participants will be immersed in Mbare Informal food market in Harare where more than a dozen knowledge pathways have been identified: farmer to farmer; farmer to trader; trader to farmer; trader to trader; farmer to transporter; transporter to farmer; trader to transporter; consumer to farmer; consumer to trader; trader to financier and many others. The event hopes to generate reflections and answers to the following questions:

  • How do informal food CoPs respond to the needs of diverse consumers and knowledge seekers?
  • What could be the potential role of culture and cities in shaping food demand and supply models?
  • To what extent do existing theoretical approaches and concepts around food speak to the peculiar roles of informal food CoPs, urban centres and traders?
  • How do informal food CoPs and traders negotiate power and neutralize the politics of food?
  • How can the development sector harness informal knowledge sharing pathways that are used by the majority of African food producers and suppliers to make decisions?
  • What can we learn from the way knowledge travels through cities and informal food supply models?
  • How can we recognize invisible CoPs that make informal agriculture markets resilient?
  • How can we use the KM4Dev toolkit and other approaches to learn from the informal food market?

When the event is over, our collective achievements should include the following:

  • We will have discovered new and immediately useful sources of agricultural knowledge that is all around us.
  • We will have explored and applied the Wenger-Trayner value creation framework with a local knowledge perspective.
  • We will have explored the role of cities in empowering the participation of CoPs in food supply and demand models.
  • We will have inspired new theories and interpretations of the social, economic, ethical, cultural and political characteristics of food systems.

Event Structure

Day 1: 25 July 2017

  • Introductions and why we are hear –  Charles Dhewa
  • Learning visit to Mbare Informal Agricultural People’s market.
  • Experiences from Uganda – John Kaganga
  • Experiences from Zambia – Lutangu Mukuti
  • Test-drive Wenger-Trayner Value Creation framework

Day 2: 26th July 2017

  • Recap of Day 1
  • The role of urban centres in food distribution and economic development – Mr Livison Mutekede, Secretary General – Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ)
  • Small grains value chains video – KTA and IMC- BEEP
  • Story-telling (weaving food stories and local music) – Renowned Poet and Story teller: Chirikure Chirikure and Mbira music from local female Mbira musician – Hope Masike; story about how the local Mbira music.
  • The notion of Knowledge Cities and Knowledge Societies – Catherine Piloto and Charles Dhewa
  • How Big Data and Social Media can surface knowledge in Informal Agriculture markets – Open Space Discussion led by the African Capacity Building Foundation.
  • Tying loose ends and conclusions.




Monomotapa Crown Plaza Hotel, Harare – https://www.visitzim.com/hotel/crowne-plaza-hotel-monomotapa/

For more information:

Charles Dhewa

Chief Executive Officer

Knowledge Transfer Africa (KTA)

Mobile: +263 774 430 309 / 772 137 717/712 737 430

Email: charles@knowledgetransafrica.com / charlesdhewa7@gmail.com ? dhewac@yahoo.co.uk

Website: www.knowledgetransafrica.com / www.emkambo.co.zw  Skype: charles.dhewa

How market price is not a major determinant of profit in agribusiness

A keen interest by African farmers to know the price of commodities on the market is understandable. However, tracking activities in informal agricultural markets by eMKambo over the past few years has proved that price is not a major determinant of profit-making in agribusiness. Profit-making is a result of creatively managing production costs, quality, losses and aggregating commodities.  The market is always available, usually with set prices.  It is about how a farmer’s commodity becomes competitive per given price. As an ecosystem, the market is a collection of many factors including ideas and experiences.

Converting resources into dollars and cents

Profitability is about converting water, soil and labour into commodities that give you dollars and cents.  Farmers should figure out best ways of converting their knowledge into products. Indigenous knowledge has to be embedded in competitive commodities not just price on the market. Price is just an expectation guide. A good price may mean nothing if a farmer has already incurred losses. Approaching agriculture from the market’s big picture provides a growth pattern that can enable farmers to make choices within available resources. Informed by the big picture, farmers can choose to diversify into high value crops.


The market also shows who else is producing what a farmer is trying to produce and the number of players involved. Such intelligence will avoid the band wagon effect where farmers get into the same commodity irrespective of competitive advantage. Unless farmers track their commodities, it is difficult to intelligently plan and project outcomes on the market. Trends surrounding a farmer’s particular commodities can provide an idea on how the farmer can adjust costs and quality in line with his/her resources. The market provides a general map and guidance that empowers a farmer to make intelligent choices.


The power of understanding competition dynamics

Where the market segments commodities into 1st price, 2nd price and 3rd price, farmers have to fit their commodities in those price parameters. While lack of organized production in the whole agricultural sector can be beyond an individual farmer’s influence, commercially-minded farmers should make an effort to understand supply levels and competition dynamics in the market. It is also important for farmers to know other competitive forces outside their commodities. For any given commodity volume, price might fall or increase not due to gluts or shortages but due to new entrants and exits in the market that either stretch or release the market budget.  For instance, if U$500 000 is circulating for given volumes of commodities in the market and one commodity, accounting for 5% cash in circulation, moves out of the market, it means the same budget begins to cover fewer commodities.  On the other hand, if for the same amount of cash in circulation, a new commodity enters the market, the budget in circulation is stretched in ways that translate to less demand for other commodities.


Buying power is determined by the influx and withdrawal of various commodities. Unlike the situation with mono crops like tobacco which do not have substitutes and whose price is determined by demand and supply only, in informal markets more than 70 commodities can substitute each other. For instance, following a good rainfall season, besides maize, other commodities like sweet potatoes and groundnuts start competing with maize. An increase in sweet potatoes means people will eat less porridge which is a derivative of maize.  Sweet potatoes, pumpkins and cow peas all compete with maize.


Matching standards with market expectations

Farmers can also reduce losses through market-oriented production calendars that inform them when to produce. Understanding market standards and expectations also reduces losses. It is usually through a mismatch between market standards and expectations that farmers lose out.  Another key issue is grading. If farmers do not understand commodity grades and how to aggregate their commodities, they end up depending on the market’s umbrella decisions about quality and other critical factors. When well-informed, farmers can be able to grade appropriately and push medium to high quality commodities to the market while low quality commodities can be re-purposed for livestock and other uses.


Consistency in production and supply is also a very important factor. It is not possible for a commodity to perform well throughout the season. Farmers should specialize on at least three commodities in order to spread their risk.  That way there are 60% chances of getting better prices.  A strong relationship with the market can also be cultivated as farmers become famous for being consistent suppliers. Traders do not often want to waste time and resources looking for new suppliers. Commodities destined for the market face competition, based on factors like price, buyers, standards and specifications. When producing for the market, farmers should make sure the best resources are devoted in order to satisfy customers’ value for money. It is unlike when farmers are producing for satisfying their own household tastes. Consumers have competing forces on their budgets.  Why should a consumer buy your sweet potatoes instead of bread?


Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

How the market can inform better farmer characterization

In a rapidly changing knowledge economy, it no longer makes sense to continue characterizing farmers in developing countries by the size of land on which they produce agricultural commodities. Informal agriculture markets provide various ways through which African farmers can be characterized beyond the smallholder, communal, commercial and other forms which are becoming inadequate. For instance, a farmer’s participation in the market can better suggest the extent to which s/he is business-oriented than can be expressed through the size of land s/he owns.

A smallholder farmer who consistently participates in the market is more commercial than one who owns a large commercial farm but does not regularly participate in the market. Factors that can be used in categorizing farmers include: seasonality of production practices; frequency of market participation as well as commodities and volumes supplied to the market.  Additional elements include market outreach (in which other market does the farmer participate, e.g., food chain stores, local markets and others? Payment method is also another important attribute. For instance, some farmers pay their labour using commodities.

 Characterizing through collective surplus at community level

At community level the best characterization is around collective surplus – how much surplus does the community produce for the market? In a community, it can be a mistake to characterize individual smallholder farmers through their individual production because high volumes of commodities by an individual farmer may not translate to surplus for the market. For example, if a family is large, subsistence consumption can exceed 80% due to the presence of more mouths to be fed.  On the other hand, a small family can produce three tons and consume one ton with the rest going to the market.

An ideal characterization approach can begin with identifying major commodities produced in a particular community. A quick survey can reveal how much of each commodity is produced and how much exists for the market, especially when aiming to set up a warehousing facility at community level.  Defining farmers by size of land excludes important factors like passion, experience, knowledge, household size, taste, household income and others. No farmer can produce every commodity and become a champion. One farmer can be good with groundnuts while another can be good with livestock. Consolidating diverse characteristics at community level can reveal investment opportunities in particular farming communities.  While climatic conditions can be given by nature, a good climate does not make farmers in a favorable climate commercial producers.


Characterization around value chains and networks

When characterizing from the market vantage point critical steps include identifying varieties and volumes of commodities that leave from a particular farming community straight to the urban farmer’s market where breaking bulk happens.  What is the proportion that goes into the wholesale market for eventual distribution to other markets in bulk?  If, for instance, 60% of butternuts travel from Harare to Bulawayo, there is justification for setting up a reliable commodity exchange to support this movement. In most informal markets, the wholesale market fulfils the role of aggregation, handling and rationalization with other markets. In all value chain nodes and networks, there is need for consolidating knowledge. Tracking volumes flowing into markets provides a framework for building consumption patterns, connected with prices.  A key question can be: For the past six months, which 10 commodities were moving together and competing in the market and which commodity, upon its entrance into the market, disturbed a necessity like a tomato?

In most informal food markets, vendors tend to be the biggest group that buys from farmers for onward selling to end-users. On the other hand traders with permanent stalls purchase commodities in bulk and often deal directly with communities. Farmers bring bulk produce into the farmers’ market where bulk is broken. Where buyers bring commodities straight from production areas, this volume is stocked in the wholesale market for other informal or formal markets like processors.  Bulk purchasing does not happen from the farmers market for commodities destined for high density areas.

On the other hand, individual consumer choices comprise food baskets. The market pulls together a food basket from bulk commodities coming from diverse farming areas. As it breaks bulk it mixes and matches commodities according to diverse consumer needs including nutritional factors.  This mixing and matching role needs to be understood as it influences consumption patterns. For instance when the consumer budget gets strained, some commodities are sacrificed. This is how commodities are given weight in terms of whether they are necessities or luxuries. Many farmers have learnt to stop producing commodities like lettuce, carrots, peas and fine beans in large quantities because they are sometimes considered luxuries not necessities.  However, necessities like tomatoes are rarely substituted fully because they participate in the preparation of many relishes.


Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6