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Title: Improving Participation in Agricultural Commodity Markets for Smallholder Sweet Potato Farmers in Kenya: Assessing Growth Opportunities for Women in Rachuonyo District
Authors: Olwande, John
Kirimi, Lilian
Mathenge, Mary
Oduol, Judith
Mithöfer, Dagmar
Place, Frank
Keywords: Agricultural Commodity Markets
Issue Date: Oct-2013
Publisher: Tegemeo Institute
Abstract: Agricultural growth is fundamental to broader economic growth and to successful poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa, where high concentration of the poor population is in agriculture sector and where smallholder farmers constitute majority of the agricultural and rural population. However, much of Africa’s agriculture is characterized by semi-subsistence, low-input, low-productivity farming systems, which is not favorable to achieving broadbased growth. Transformation to a more commercialized agriculture is, therefore, unavoidable if the broad-based growth is to be achieved. Better and more accessible markets are a fundamental ingredient to a more commercialized agriculture. Yet in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, markets for agricultural inputs, outputs and finance remain thin and infrastructure is poor, resulting in high transaction risks and costs. While market failure is a major constraint to many smallholder farmers, the effects are compounded for marginalized groups such as women, the poor and producers in areas with low agricultural potential (agriculturally less favored areas) because of their circumstances. Addressing the challenges faced by the marginalized groups in accessing agricultural markets remains a necessary priority in efforts to foster broad-based agricultural growth, and thereby contribute towards poverty reduction. Identifying specific agricultural commodities/value chains as well as interventions that could offer the best opportunities for sales, income, and poverty alleviation for marginalized groups is important in the process of making beneficial investments to these groups. Analysis of value chains in combination with the characteristics of the marginalized groups of interest as well as characteristics of the potential interventions would be helpful in informing the design of such interventions for greater impact. This study sought to identify critical challenges that need to be addressed and assess growth opportunities that could be exploited to improve access to and participation by women smallholders in agricultural markets. This study builds on findings from an earlier study carried out as a joint collaboration between Tegemeo Institute, Egerton University, World Agro-forestry Centre (ICRAF) and Makerere University on “Participation in Agricultural Commodity Markets among the Poor and Marginalized in Kenya and Uganda”, which used household panel data to examine trends and patterns in smallholder participation in agricultural markets. The current study focused on sweet potatoes value chain, which the earlier study identified as holding potential for integrating small holder farmers in markets, and women as a marginalized group. The objective was to assess opportunities for growth in the value chain with a view to identifying investment areas for increased market participation especially for women. The study site was Kabondo Division, Rachuonyo South District, Homa Bay County, the leading sweet potato production area in Kenya. The study adopted a value chain approach. A sample of 100 sweet potato farming households and two farmer groups were interviewed. Two focus group discussions were also held with sweet potato growers in the area. In addition, interviews were also conducted on a range of sweet potato traders and key ii informants along the value chain, including input suppliers, commodity traders and service providers, including government agricultural officers. Results of the study showed that women dominate all the production and trading nodes of the sweet potato value chain. In addition, the study revealed opportunities that if harnessed have the potential to integrate women more in the sweet potato value chain and improve their welfare through potential benefits from the improved value chain. However, these opportunities exist alongside constraints which need to be addressed in efforts to make the value chain work better for the benefit of the players, who are mainly women. For the producers, major constraints identified were: • Lack of access to affordable credit for production, mainly due to stringent conditions and requirements by formal institutions offering credit • Unorganized spot markets, where producers have little bargaining power on setting grades and prices. This results in low producer prices. • Lack of enforcement of law concerning sweet potato standard packaging units, making producers lose • Opportunistic behavior by brokers in major urban markets increases transaction costs • Erratic weather patterns • Incidences of pests, especially sweet potato weevil • Limited access to agronomic advice, and • High cost of labour For traders, the major constraints identified were: • Poor feeder roads and high transport costs. The cost of transport accounted for over 50 percent of marketing costs incurred by large traders, who move the produce from the production area to major urban markets including Nairobi, Gikomba and Mombasa • Highly fluctuating commodity supply in the market, because of lack of storage facilities in the face of seasonal production. The perishable nature of the commodity cannot allow for long shelf-life without proper storage facilities • Lack of affordable credit services for business expansion, and • Opportunistic behavior by brokers in major urban markets. Despite the above constraints, there are opportunities that if harnessed can lead to better integration of women in the commodity market. First, the conducive agro-ecology for production and growing demand for sweet potato offer opportunity for growth in the production and marketing of sweet potatoes. Potential for processing is also an avenue that can be explored to foster growth in demand. Secondly, the already existing commercial- iii oriented production and fairly well established institutions along the chain, especially at production level, provide a more stable platform for investment both in production and marketing of the commodity. Thirdly, a wide network of stakeholders working to promote the enterprise is an indication of the potential for growth in the sweet potato value chain, and synergies by the stakeholders can be harnessed for greater impact. The goodwill by the government policy under the traditional high value crops initiative provides an opportunity for addressing especially infrastructural and policy regulatory constraints along the value chain. Finally, fairly well-established collective action institutions around sweet potato production can be a good avenue to engage with especially women to promote collective action around sweet potato production and marketing and provision of production and marketing facilitative services. Three important constraints that need to be addressed in efforts to tap into the opportunities were identified. First, liquidity constraint among women producers is important. Currently, many producer groups offer credit facilities to their members. Strengthening the capacity of the producer groups to continue offering credit services to members may be desirable. However, even with strengthening, the adequacy of these groups to meet financial needs of producers to enable them increase commercial production of sweet potato production is an issue that needs careful thought. Secondly, producers need strengthening to have better bargaining power on setting grades and prices. This could be done through strengthening the existing collective action institutions among producers to engage in collective marketing. Thirdly, there is need to ensure enforcement of the law concerning sweet potato standard packaging units, which is documented under the The Local Government Act (Cap. 265). Finally, there is need to improve bargaining strength of producers and traders in the major urban markets to counter the opportunistic behavior by brokers in those markets.
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