By Mamusha Lemma and Gemeda Duguma
In Ethiopia, smallholder vegetable farmers have very limited direct access to wholesale markets. Because of this, many of them rely on brokers to sell their produce in markets. But these brokers usually set the price, leaving smallholders no room to bargain how much they sell their own produce.
Hussen Ahmed, a smallholder potato farmer in Seka Chekorsa District of Jimma Zone, has been marketing his produce through brokers in Jimma town. He says that when marketing produce through brokers, payments are always delayed. By delaying payments, brokers pressure farmers to sell their produce at the lowest possible prices, giving the brokers nearly all the leverage in negotiating and setting prices with farmers and traders.
But Hussen, and other farmers, now have access to better information and opportunities for marketing their produce which is translating to better incomes for them. After participating in commodity platform meetings organized by the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project, Hussen is now linking with farmers and traders in the district and beyond to sell his potatoes.
He has become an outgrower farmer whose marketing enterprise opens up accessible markets and improved technologies for smallholder farmers in his locality. After learning about new market opportunities, Hussen opened a roadside vegetable market shed where he collects produce from other farmers and sells it to traders in Jimma and beyond. In addition to his own produce, Hussen is engaged in sharecropping arrangements, where he provides other farmers with agricultural inputs (such as seeds, fertilizers and credit) and motor pumps. He also advises other farmers on the use of improved seeds and management practices and supports them with information on access to inputs, technologies and technical advice as well as guaranteeing a market for their produce. In other words, he has become a trusted trader and embedded service provider in his community. He has provided flexible credit and payment arrangements to smallholder farmers. As a result, farmers prefer to sell their produce to him than to the traders in town. In one production season alone, he has sold nearly 50 lorry loads of potato, which earned him about ETB 30,000 (USD 1350).
The LIVES project has participated in the Jimma Zone market linkage facilitation committee and facilitated meetings with farmers and traders in selected irrigation schemes to discuss marketing-related challenges and opportunities including ways of ensuring better prices for farmers’ produce. As a result, farmers in the zone are adopting improved inputs and production methods to improve the quality of their produce to better take advantage of new markets.
The experience from Seka Chekorsa District shows that significant change can be achieved in value chain development by properly identifying key leverage points and improving market linkages between farmers, input suppliers and traders. But success depends on involving all key actors to ensure that they understand what and how they can contribute to better develop the value chain in question. These interactions can also enable farmers to adapt improved technologies and production practices to meet the needs of the market.