Let us avoid invisible competition in agriculture

10Apr 2019
Editor
DAR ES SALAAM
The Guardian
Let us avoid invisible competition in agriculture

ONE of the unintended consequences of knowledge sharing is an increase in the number of people doing the same agricultural activity.

This leads to congested niches where particular value chains rapidly reach their cap or ceiling. While the market playground may look the same and fair from the outside, Tanzanian agriculture is beset by numerous pervasive competitive dynamics that have a bearing on sustainability and profitability.

Competition, and to some extent conflict of interest, is rife in all value chains such as poultry, beef, maize, input supply, contract farming and extension services.

Food aid and government programmes also tend to introduce some competitive dimensions that should be understood in order to minimise negative consequences. Without intentional coordination, a lot of value is lost than gained through these competitive patterns in a small market of 49 million people. It would be good if the competition was directed at satisfying the global market.

 

As a knowledge system, current extension models from diverse actors such as government, NGOs, farmer unions, private companies and markets are confusing many farmers.

Lack of harmonisation is revealed in how, although these actors compete for the same farmers, such competition is not improving productivity and collective outcomes. There are many cases where contract arrangements skip rural agro-dealers and go directly to farmers yet agro-dealers are an integral part of farmers' socio-economic ecosystem. Several agro-dealers extend loans to farmers and also contribute to local employment creation.

Skipping such actors resulted in most external interventions failing to last long. The same happens when development agencies skip working with farmer unions in the same area.

Rather than compete for farmers, an ideal situation should see farmer unions, contract companies, NGOs and government extension services consolidating plans and resources for better use by farmers. When competition is not harmonised, it translates into different outcomes on the market in terms of volumes of commodities supplied, inconsistent standards and quality, among other mishaps. Individual actors strive be identified with their own products whose standards may not be required by the market.

In most cases contracted farmers and those supported by NGOs or those supported through government input schemes, are treated the same by the market yet they will have incurred different costs in producing.

Some have more advantages than others and that presents silent competition. Contracted farmers may want to sell in a hurry so that they quickly meet their contractual needs while those who got inputs for free may want to take their time since they have not incurred serious costs.

A major motivation for all value chain actors should be improving the effectiveness of value chains and related nodes. That should be done in such a way that farmers are strengthened to do what they know best. Same with traders, manufacturers, transporters and other actors. Successfully doing so will prevent the temptation for actors to jump from one value chain node to another.

For instance, giving tobacco farmers preference in cash withdrawals may result in many farmers leaving other value chains such as horticulture that are the backbone of nutrition security but do not get VIP status like tobacco.

Farmers and traders in informal markets handle cash on a daily basis in order to keep the food system functioning but they have not been given special financial priority by financial institutions. In fact, horticultural farmers and traders handle more cash than individual farmers annually. Treating one value chain as if it can stand on its own creates resentment among value chains and that hinders cultivation of good relationships between value chains.