This is the second part of a two-part Blog based on recent experiences in Fiji with the formulation of the Fiji Agricultural Partnerships Project (FAPP)
In Fiji, as in the rest of the world, linking farmers to new markets is certainly not easy. Farmers and traders often distrust each other, but unless trust relations can be built up the two parties won’t be able to work together and Fiji will continue to be a major importer of products that it could well produce itself.
Understanding problems faced by farmers
What needs to be done to achieve this trust and develop mutually profitable markets? First, each party needs to understand the other. For a start, traders must understand the difficulties that farmers face in meeting quantity and quality requirements. These difficulties could include poor growing conditions, and problems with obtaining the right planting materials and other farm inputs. Farmers may also find it difficult to keep harvested produce in good condition while awaiting arrival of the trader’s transport. What can traders do to assist in these cases? Perhaps they could buy the inputs on behalf of the farmers and supply them under a kind of contract farming arrangement where the farmers pay for the inputs when they sell their produce. This would help address a common problem, that of insufficient rural credit. To improve post-harvest handling, the trader or traders could help to fund or help to find funding for construction of a small facility to keep the produce out of the sun and rain.
Developing trust to address these problems is essential
Traders are not going to make investments of this type if they don’t trust the farmers. They have had too many experiences of farmers promising to deliver products and then failing to do so. Often these failures have been for understandable reasons: there may have been a pest or disease outbreak; the weather may have been unsuitable; or farmers may have had important cultural obligations that they felt took precedence. On other occasions, however, farmers may just have not got round to doing the planting or, if the crop was grown, they may have decided to sell to someone else.
Farmers should understand that it is in their interests to honour their commitments. Traders have customers; hotels, supermarkets and, sometimes, export buyers. If they fail to deliver what these customers want the customers are going to look for other suppliers and, quite often, these will be farmers in Australia and New Zealand. If this happens, traders will be in no position to buy anything from Fiji’s farmers. And if the traders are lucky enough to find new customers they certainly won’t be going back to the same farmers who let them down previously!
How can trust be developed?
First, communication is essential. Farmers are often suspicious of traders because they compare the price they get with the selling price of the trader. Traders could meet with farmers to explain the costs they face, as these are often not appreciated by farmers. They should also explain the reasons why they need a regular supply of the right variety and quality. And they should pay when farmers deliver because delayed payment is probably the major complaint of farmers who supply to traders. But even with the best will in the world there will be occasions when farmers will be unable to supply what is required. By spreading out their purchases over a large number of farmers in different areas, traders can reduce, although not altogether avoid, the risk that they will have insufficient supply. They can also get early warning of potential problems by being in regular contact with the farming areas. One approach could be to appoint agents from among the farmers: these could monitor production and also schedule harvests and collection by the trader.
The FAPP project
Under the Fiji Agricultural Partnerships Project (FAPP) it is proposed to train farmers in the highlands on market-oriented production and business management. Crops to be covered are off-season vegetables, as well as roots and tubers and ginger. The project will also encourage farmers to work in groups to organise input supply (e.g. seedling production) and to schedule production to meet the needs of buyers. This approach has already borne fruit in part of the highlands, as a result of an NGO-implemented, IFAD-funded, Partnerships in High-Value Agriculture (PHVA) project. Meetings between buyers and farmers have been organised and some small-scale post-harvest infrastructure constructed. The FAPP project will also be working closely to support the capacity of small and medium enterprises to work with farmers more effectively, as well as assisting the Ministry of Agriculture to support such developments.