Incentives and Access to Market
Muvikiho, an apex group (equivalent to a secondary cooperative in Indonesia) with 476 members from 12 fruits and vegetables farmer groups, also shares the same concern but faces different challenges. Established in 2012, Muvikiho exports fruits and vegetables and also supply high-end supermarkets as well as local markets. The organisation handles marketing and management of all contractual agreements. In addition to connecting their members to buyers, they also provide services such as agricultural training and capacity building.
As an apex, Muvikiho must make sure that everything is going well in all the groups. Jeremia Thomas Ayo, the Secretary of Muvikiho, revealed that the organisation practices open management, which is an important key to earn farmers’ confidence. Jeremia said that convincing farmers to apply sustainable agricultural practices was a challenge in the beginning. But once they realised that the markets were interested and there was an incentive of getting better prices, it was not so difficult anymore to recruit members. So better prices and market access are some of the main driving forces for farmers to convert to safer and more sustainable farming habits. Unfortunately, the awareness to provide safe and healthy food has not become one of these forces.
“In theory, all farmers understand the benefits of safe and sustainable farming. But in practice, often if we sent samples, up to 50% were rejected because the level of chemical residues was found too high,” Jeremia explained. At the moment, only three—including Umoja and Kibiu farmer groups—out of the 12 groups are able to meet the GLOBALG.A.P. standards and have managed to secure contracts with Mara Farming, an export company with a strong market base in Europe.
Mara Farming works closely with VECO East Africa to identify the eligibility of farmer groups such as Umoja and Kibiu. According to Eric Mdee, Mara’s Area Coordinator for Tanzania, VECO East Africa has done a great job building the capacity of farmer organisations and connecting them with actors in the value chain. Then Mara takes it from there.
Having worked with smallholder farmers for decades, Mara Farming has always applied inclusive business principles in all of their dealings. Mara develops lasting relationships with farmers and helps them produce crops that meet market demand. They regularly provides farmers with technical assistance including land preparation, input selection, planting, fertilisation program, harvesting and post-harvest handling. Unfortunately, finding a buyer like Mara is not easy. Most buyers are only interested in making one-off purchases and getting quick profits, presenting the sector with yet another big challenge to tackle.