Why Smallholder Farmers Always Get The Shorter End Of The Stick

April 27, 2023 0

Picture this – you are a farmer based in the country side, a remote underserved and underdeveloped rural village with ownership of less than an acre under your name, subdivided into several portions for your homestead, with the rest set aside to grow crops and rear a handful of livestock, all these mostly for subsistence. You however try to make ends meet and venture into some less-capital intensive but viable agricultural pursuits like poultry farming, cultivation of some cash crop (sugarcane, tea, coffee, avocado, et cetera) or any other “high-potential”  farming initiative that take months to reach maturity and harvesting, not to mention the long hours spent tending to the crops or flock, as well as input costs incurred to ensure the product is of premium-quality to meet the market and consumers’ expectations before they can fetch somewhat, a fair price for you – which in most cases doesn’t happen and you end up unable to break-even or at a negative, just because of the “artificial” forces and odds that are always working against you!

Well, unfortunately, this is the situation most smallholder farmers in Africa are in and seldom, the circumstances change for the better despite agriculture being the backbone of many African economies – providing livelihoods for millions of people across the continent.

Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is!

Smallholder farmers in African often struggle to get a just compensation for their products and effort, with many facing significant challenges that limit their productivity, profitability, and ability to access markets.

Action needs to be taken to support these hardworking farmers, rather than just talking about the importance of agriculture and its potential for economic development while seated in posh “air-conditioned” offices. We must have concrete solutions and investment to address the challenges faced by farmers in accessing markets, finance, and technical skills, among other issues.

In this article, we explore some of the key factors that contribute to this situation and discuss possible solutions.

  1. Limited Access to Markets

One of the biggest challenges facing African farmers is limited access to markets. Many farmers struggle to connect with buyers who are willing to pay fair prices for their products due to inadequate transportation infrastructure, high transaction costs, and limited access to market information. This makes it difficult for farmers to earn a decent income and limits their ability to invest in their farms.

For this reason, Eagmark has developed an eCommerce Marketplace where farmers and agricultural professionals can purchase agricultural inputs at competitive prices and sell their farm produce at fair prices. This platform also connects farmers with consumers and food processors directly, helping in managing the supply chain effectively and therefore reducing the chances of food waste.

  1. Limited Access to Finance

Access to finance is essential for small-scale farmers to purchase inputs, machinery, and equipment. However, African farmers often have limited access to credit due to lack of collateral, high-interest rates, and limited farmer-oriented financial institutions. This makes it difficult for farmers to invest in their farms, improve their productivity, and access higher-value markets.

To mitigate this challenge, Eagmark’s innovative financing solution “FarmBoost”, provides financing for farmers and agribusinesses, ensuring fair access to capital and promotes social development in the sector. By providing bespoke financial lending processes and requirements, the platform aims to level the playing field and provide equal opportunities for all farmers.

  1. Lack of Technical Skills

Many African farmers lack the technical skills required to produce high-quality crops, add value to their products, and manage their farms efficiently. This often leads to low yields, poor-quality products, and difficulty in accessing higher-value markets. There is a need for improved training and extension services to help farmers improve their skills and productivity.

Thanks to solutions such as the Online Learning Campus (OLC) developed by Eagmark and dedicated to provide valuable learning resources for agricultural students, farm apprentices, farmers, and farm managers.

  1. Climate Change

Climate change is increasingly affecting agricultural productivity in Africa. Erratic rainfall patterns, droughts, and floods can damage crops, reduce yields, and affect food security. This can lead to lower incomes for farmers and make it difficult for them to get a fair deal. There is a need for climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies to help farmers adapt to the changing climate.

  1. Dependence on Middlemen

Many African farmers are dependent on middlemen to sell their products. These middlemen often exploit their lack of market knowledge and bargaining power, leading to lower prices for their products. Improved market information systems and support for farmer-led marketing initiatives can help farmers connect with buyers and improve their bargaining power. The Eagmark eCommerce Marketplace does just that by cutting the middlemen off the supply chain to try and enable fair market competition and fair market prices for farmers.

  1. Limited Access to Inputs

Many African farmers have limited access to high-quality seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs. Most often than not, this results to lower yields, lower quality products, and difficulty in accessing higher-value markets. Improving access to inputs and support for farmer-led seed production and distribution systems are some of the initiatives that can be initiated through capacitated farmer organizations.

  1. Poor Infrastructure

Poor infrastructure, such as inadequate storage facilities, lack of electricity, and poor transportation networks, can make it difficult for farmers to get their products to the market in a timely and cost-effective manner. This can lead to spoilage and damage, reducing the quality of their products and lowering their income. Prioritizing investments that improved infrastructure can leapfrog agricultural development.

Governments need to intervene and build well-networked transport infrastructure which can play a great role in ensuring farm produce take the shortest possible time to reach consumers when they are still fresh, thereby reducing the cost of investment on expensive storage equipment, and for those who cannot afford these storage facilities, which is always the case with most small-scale farmers, and their products end up going bad leading to food waste and devastating losses.

  1. Lack of Land Tenure Security

In many African countries, land tenure is insecure, with farmers having limited rights to their land. This makes it difficult for them to invest in their farms and obtain credit, and can also lead to conflicts with larger landholders or the government. With proper government interventions, here can be improved land tenure security and support for community-led land governance systems.

  1. Unfair Trade Policies

Agricultural trade policies in many countries are biased against small-scale farmers. Subsidies, tariffs, and other trade barriers can make it difficult for African farmers to compete in global markets and earn a fair price for their products. Legislation must be put in place to ensure that there is improvement in trade policies that support small-scale farmers and promote fair trade practices.

  1. Inadequate Research and Development

The infrastructure for agricultural research and development is weak in many African nations. Lack of access to cutting-edge technology, industry best practices, and market data may result from this.

In Africa’s agriculture industry, the lack of access to new technologies and techniques reduces productivity and profitability, making it more challenging for farmers to obtain a fair price. Farmers find it difficult to compete in international markets and unable to produce the right quantity or quality of crops required to earn a stable income without access to the most recent technologies. Similarly, without access to market information, farmers cannot make well-informed decisions about what crops to grow, when to sell, and how much to charge.

To address these issues, African governments and international organizations must invest in research and development infrastructure and make it more accessible to small-scale farmers. This can involve providing funding for research institutions, promoting collaboration between researchers and farmers, and disseminating information on best practices and new technologies through extension services.

Promoting public-private partnerships (PPPs) is also another strategy that can bring together government, industry, and academia to drive innovation and create sustainable value chains. PPPs can help address the gap in technology development and innovation by combining the knowledge and resources of different stakeholders.

  1. Lack of Proper Coordination among Farmers

The problem of market fragmentation is somehow a reflection of how poorly disorganized and uncoordinated African farmers are among themselves. It is a well-known fact that when farmer groups come together, they stand a chance and are in a better position to negotiate better prices for their products, as buyers would find it difficult to find alternatives elsewhere.

We have created a curriculum on “The Power of Farmer Organizations: Building a Farmers Community” available on the Eagmark Online Learning Campus (OLC). This course is designed to explore the importance of farmer organizations in building a strong and resilient farming community. It introduces the concept of farmer organizations and the key benefits they offer to farmers, including increased bargaining power, access to information and resources, and the ability to participate in policy-making processes.

  1. Gender Inequality

Putting the buzzwords and all the conundrum aside, women farmers in Africa have often faced significant barriers to accessing resources, such as land, credit, and market information.

According to a study by the World Economic Forum (WEF), women account for nearly half of the world’s smallholder farmers and produce 70% of Africa’s food. However, less than 20% of land in the world is owned by women and over 65% of land in Kenya is governed by customary laws that discriminate against women, limiting their land and property rights – something to critically think about! The WEF study highlights the perspective, but we believe that women truly form the majority or smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

These circumstances have continuously limited women’s farm productivity and profitability, and has led to lower incomes and fewer opportunities to improve their economic status.

Additionally, women farmers are often discriminated against in terms of access to productive resources, such as land, credit, and training. Women typically have less access to these resources than men, which limits their productivity and profitability. This gender inequality affects not only the women themselves but also their families and communities.

In recent times, however, there have been efforts and initiatives across many institutions, organizations and programs to promote gender equality and empower women farmers through policies and programs that promote their access to productive resources.

Eagmark Online Learning Campus (OLC) is offering a “Gender Mainstreaming in Agriculture” course that aims to equip participants with knowledge and skills on how to integrate gender considerations into agricultural policies and programs. The course is open to anyone interested in gender mainstreaming in agriculture, including policymakers, program managers, researchers, and development practitioners.

  1. Insufficient Extension Services

Extension services, such as training in new farming techniques, access to credit, and market information, are often limited in many African countries. This can limit farmers’ ability to adopt new technologies and practices and take advantage of market opportunities.

Extension services play a crucial role in supporting farmers to improve their productivity and profitability. However, they are often limited in many African countries due to inadequate funding, limited human resources, and poor infrastructure. It is therefore essential to invest in extension services and ensure that they are adequately funded, staffed, and equipped to meet the needs of farmers.

  1. Environmental Degradation

Environmental degradation, such as soil erosion, deforestation, and water pollution, is a major hindrance to full productivity of African farms and reduces their profitability. This has led to lower incomes for farmers and makes it more difficult for them to get a fair deal.

Environmental degradation affects not only the immediate productivity of farms but also the long-term sustainability of agricultural production. It is therefore essential to promote sustainable agriculture practices and invest in environmental conservation efforts to ensure that African farmers can continue to produce food and earn a fair income in the long run.

Summing It All Up

All of these factors contribute to the challenges faced by African farmers in getting a fair outcome based on their efforts and toil. While some of these issues may be difficult to address all at once, there are steps that can be taken to help farmers improve their competitiveness and position in the market, just like we are doing through Eagmark’s initiatives – plans into action – and with the right strategic partners and support, such small efforts can be compounded to make greater impacts for the betterment of the farming community and the society’s wellbeing at large – with less talk, and more action!

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