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Access to Markets – key determinant for smallholder farmers’ success

Without reasonable access to markets, current efforts to transform agriculture and utilise its growth to improve the livelihoods of the majority of Africa’s rural poor will be futile. This is because markets serve as the main ‘transmission mechanisms’ between growth in the wider economy and the lives of the poor. Despite their significant contribution to food and nutrition security in Southern Africa, smallholder farmers are faced with a plethora of challenges that limit their ability to extract benefits from agriculture, especially access to lucrative markets. Agricultural markets do not work for the smallholder rural farmers, especially for women and the youth.

Whilst several studies have been conducted, there is need for evidence on the key issues affecting the functioning of agricultural markets, especially residual trade impediments, and the impact of existing policies on smallholder farmers. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the lack of access to profitable, value-added markets and the absence of critical supporting functions, such as infrastructure and service provision, has retarded efforts to transform and shift smallholder farmers’ enterprise from subsistence and barter, to more productive forms of exchange. It is the assertion of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that governments have an essential role to play in addressing the specific market access constraints encountered by smallholder farmers. Maximizing the benefits of access to reliable and remunerative markets will go a long way in complementing governments’ efforts to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially for targets related to food and nutrition security. 

That barriers to market access continue to exist is testament to the absence of lasting solutions, but does not mean that governments, civil society and private sector actors have not attempted to facilitate entry avenues for smallholder farmers. In an effort to develop an in-depth understanding of this challenge, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), working in partnership with Oxfam Southern Africa (Oxfam SAF), implemented rapid-scoping studies in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Using an analytical framework based on political economy, institutional environment, markets and value-chain analyses, the main objective of this four-country study was to establish how poor smallholder agricultural producers and rural and urban consumers interacted with markets. 

As part of the intervention’s outputs, a set of key recommendations were proffered, contributing to the existing body of knowledge on the challenge of market access by smallholder farmers. From the onset, FANRPAN and OXFAM were of the conviction that comprehensive pro-poor analyses of rural livelihoods and how they interacted with agricultural markets was required. This would set a basis for developing a framework to ensure that markets worked for the rural poor at national and regional levels.

Topmost of the recommendations was the need for governments to accelerate the adoption and implementation of interventions and agriculture-related policies that supported rural farmers’ rights, specifically, agriculture marketing. Multi-stakeholder and consultative platforms need to review policies that work against the aspirations of poor rural farmers, such as ad hoc export bans, gender-insensitive market facilities and related gender-based violence at market places, and the institution of unenforceable minimum farm gate-prices. With appropriate policies being the bedrock of lasting development, there is need to frame policies, laws and regulations, strategies, and programs that promote multi-stakeholder involvement, to include the private sector, enabling them to participate in processes aimed at formulation and implementation of policies and operational plans. 

Complementary to the development of an enabling policy environment is the need to ensure operational efficiency and effectiveness of smallholder farming operations. An ideal approach emerging from the multi-country study is ensuring that smallholder value chains are geared to respond to the continent’s major challenges. Value chains need to be nutrition-sensitive, thus providing guarantees for agriculture to deliver positive nutrition outcomes. They also need to be climate-smart, to ensure that smallholder farmers build resilience in the face of climate change and variability. Smallholder agricultural value chains will yield their best only if they are configured in a gender-sensitive and inclusive manner, thus enabling them to harness the positive dividends emanating from women and the youth. Further, a comprehensive approach is required to identify those value chains that lack standards and support their development. 

Commenting on the outcome of the studies, FANRPAN’s Dr. Njongenhle Nyoni who coordinated the study said, “there is urgent need for both state and non-state actors to create an enabling environment for smallholder farmers, especially women and youth, to tap into regional agriculture value chains, capitalizing on the Regional Agriculture Investment Plan (RAIP) and harnessing the benefits of the recently launched Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement.” The FANRPAN CEO and Head of Mission, Dr. Tshilidzi Madzivhandila thanked OXFAM Southern Africa for the partnership, and indicated that this study was a solid foundation for further work that would help in ensuring that agriculture did not turn out to be a poverty trap for smallholder farmers and rural communities. 

At a smallholder farmers’ market

A person wearing a suit and tie

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Dr. Njongenhle Nyoni presents findings of the four-country study

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Ms Chimbala Yoyo (OXFAM SAF) comments on the outcomes of the study

A group of people in a room

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FANRPAN CEO, Dr T. Madzivhandila talks about market access

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Mzansi Agriculture Talk or its members.

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