Income streams have different flavors – Wisdom of African Food Markets

BY Charles Dhewa
EVERY stream of income associated with African food products has unique socio-economic flavors, according to farmers and traders who have participated in African mass food markets for many years. Farmers and elders with different sources of income tend to have different tastes and shades of fulfillment compared to those who depend on a single source of income.

While some farmers view horticulture as a source of petty cash, farmers who receive a lump sum income once a year have different levels of achievement than those who earn a monthly pension.

why is this the case?

Revenue from each product tastes different due to several factors. The timing and financial situation of the farmer when receiving the income brings a unique taste and flavor to that income. For example, farmers specializing in cucumbers in southern Africa often sell from early September to December when prices are good and farmers have no other income. Income that arises in the absence of other sources of income brings more satisfaction than regular income such as rentals.

Products that sell easily and quickly make the marketing experience enjoyable and quite satisfying. This applies to several products, including cucumbers and tomatoes, when competition is limited. It can take less than an hour to sell over 50 bags of cucumbers or sweet potatoes, with plenty of time spent assigning the bags to different buyers competing for the product.

Some of the unique financial flavor comes from the sale of bulky products that are unloaded in huge volumes such as cabbages and watermelons. Selling different sizes to different buyers at different prices also brings its own air of satisfaction. Competition with other farmers to sell products by size is also satisfactory. The excitement and pride of attracting more buyers to your products due to your offered sizes cannot be expressed in dollars and cents.

The value of competition between buyers

The pressure and competitive spirit between buyers competing for commodities produces a great feeling that encourages farmers to go back and perform better in order to continue to please diverse customers. When a commodity sells very well, the farmer benefits from the process and the income to the point of prescribing the currency and denomination. For example, the farmer may dictate that he prefers buyers using higher monetary denominations like 20 and 50 that are easy to count. The satisfaction of setting the rules of the game is incredible.

The Intangible Value of Positive Feedback

The positive feedback from customers to farmers is far too fulfilling and encourages farmers to take advantage of the market. These positive and encouraging comments are often not received by farmers who sell to formal institutions like supermarkets where the relationship is very impersonal.

In fact, customers who buy in supermarkets rent the supermarket to sell good quality products, not the farmer they don’t meet. All credit goes to the supermarket as if it were the food producer.

Products that customers can taste for freshness and flavor also bring immense satisfaction to farmers. These products include carrots, cucumbers, okra, fresh peanuts and wild fruits. Breaking okra pods or tubers for customers to enjoy the freshness is such a nice feeling for farmers and consumers.

Receiving money from various consumers and putting it in a bag is so nice that it triggers a generous spirit among farmers who end up giving some of the products to consumers in smaller portions as part of a discount or a appreciation. Fruits such as bananas, mangos and others that can be sold individually are often offered to consumers as a thank you. This does not happen formally
markets.

What about the sale of products on the farm?

Farmers who sell their products on the farm have their own advantages, but they are not exposed to the same satisfaction and marketing experience as what happens in the mass market. Whenever possible, it is in the interest of farmers to visit the market where customers provide feedback and share valuable information.

In most cases, customers are also quality controllers who can tell farmers how to improve the quality of butternuts, watermelons, and other products that may need to be produced in certain ways in order to satisfy customers. The choice of variety is selected in the market, including critical aspects such as the performance of different varieties in different production areas and the micro
climates.

Fundamental details like varieties, packaging, timing and general bargaining skills can be learned and honed more in the market than on the farm. The market exposes a farmer to information that he may not get through formal communication channels, field days or agricultural shows. For example, the mass market can open farmers’ eyes to the fact that lower quality products like baby cobs or tubers that can be thrown away at the farm actually have mass market buyers. This allows farmers to earn income that they would otherwise waste on the farm where in most cases the inferior qualities have no takers, especially for produce like cucumbers, nutmegs, watermelon and others.

Barometer of an African market

Formal companies that only take better product qualities and ignore inferior ones are not a true barometer of an African market. Mass markets are the real barometer because they take everything including small sizes that have their own buyers. Getting produce to the mass market allows farmers to build a strong customer base.

More importantly, the mass market experience is totally different from the agricultural show which is all about exhibiting. The agricultural show is also impersonal in that when a farmer brings in a commodity for competition, the merchandise is judged in the absence of the farmer. The farmer does not receive direct feedback on what needs improvement or what other competing farmers have done to achieve better scores.

On the other hand, farmers who visit the mass market tend to go back and perform better than those who attend agricultural shows or wait for buyers to come and buy from the farm.

It is in the market that farmers are now learning that different soil types, such as sand and red, normally produce different qualities and sizes of potatoes and peppers, for example. However, very few customers are sophisticated enough to distinguish flavor differences between soil types and microclimates of production areas. Consumers need to be educated and aware of the value of flavor and taste. Different climatic conditions, temperatures, water with different chemical properties, and soil types and structures give different flavors to foods.

African mass food markets are good at mobilizing diverse food flavors that people at the community level accustomed to their own local food system may not be exposed to. Many consumers may not be aware that oranges need high temperatures to produce the proper taste. That’s why they don’t do well in cold weather. Some of this knowledge is the domain of technical experts who often solve problems that ordinary farmers and consumers may never know exist.

  • Charles Dhewa is a proactive knowledge broker and management specialist