Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Creating an Enabling Environment for Irrigation Farmers to Access Markets
2 September 2015

The purpose of this Lessons Learned note is to provide the "Increasing irrigation water productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe through on-farm monitoring, adaptive management and Agricultural Innovation Platforms" project team with observations based on interactions with farmers in the Zimbabwe project sites and situation profile reports.

The Challenge - one of the main challenges small-scale irrigation farmers are facing in the focus countries (Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) is access to both agricultural inputs and outputs markets. In Zimbabwe, farmers from Mkoba irrigation scheme generally complained of high transport costs when transporting their produce to the markets and of low prices when they do get their produce to the markets. Another concern that was raised was that buyers in that market only want to purchase in bulk and individual farmers who own on average one-hectare plots cannot meet supply bulk orders and the quality of their produce is an issue.

One case that aptly demonstrates this challenge is that of Mrs Moyo a farmer from Mkoba irrigation scheme who produces cabbages, tomatoes, green mealies, onions and other horticultural crops. Discussions with Mrs Moyo revealed that because of the price challenges at the market, she is forced to sell her cabbage crop at $1 for eight instead of three heads of cabbages or risk them rotting. From time to time instead of selling her produce at low prices, she prefers to exchange it for other goods, such as clothes and small livestock.

Traditionally, research on how to improve irrigation water productivity focuses on the "hardware", like rehabilitating the irrigation equipment and does not focus on the "soft" issues such as access to markets and information. Interventions are not holistically investigating other challenges faced by farmers in the schemes such as knowledge gaps when it comes to marketing their produce or improving their agronomic practices. Discussions with farmers reveal that they often farm the same crop produce without an understanding of market requirements in terms of quality and consistency of supply. Furthermore, farmers continue to produce and sell individually even though experience has shown that farming and selling as a group is more profitable as they are in a better position to be reliable suppliers for buyers who require consistent suppliers who can deliver bulk orders.

The lesson: Linking farmers to markets is not a job for one organisation, it requires a consortium of experts, with the know-how and networks to help farmers improve their production and to participate competitively in the local markets. There is need to improve the extension and advisory services to make sure that farmers are educated about improved agronomic practices. There is need to expand the agro dealer network to make sure that farmers access quality seed and other inputs in a timely manner. There is need to improve the market information system so that farmers have access to pricing information before they go to the markets so that they negotiate for better prices.

There is also a need for farmers to come together and be organised into cooperatives so that they can produce large quantities that are required by buyers. Lastly, policymakers also have a role to play in addressing market challenges faced not only by irrigation farmers but also by smallholder farmers in general. They have to help create the necessary conditions for profitable smallholder agriculture by implementing policies that strengthen access to both input and output markets. No single group working independently and in isolation can generate, utilise or promote effective utilisation of the required technologies, knowledge and approaches. Specific policies that lead to improved farming practices include promotion of high-value crops, on-farm value addition, expansion of systems for extension and technical support, and investment in smallholder technologies.

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