|The Courier N° 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)|
It might be thought strange for a tiny African country to try to sell canned asparagus to countries 5000 miles away in Europe that are expert in vegetable production.
Yet that is exactly what Lesotho in southern Africa is doing with increasing success. It is all a matter of good marketing.
Graham Dixie, the man behind the Lesotho project, says the fields of Africa are packed full of intriguing things for niche markets in the West which are expanding and will continue to expand in the next few years. The same goes for developing countries in other parts of the world.
There is no substitute for being able to take some samples and place them in the hands of buyers for them to say yes, thats a good product, but you need to improve it in such and such a way, and this is the price at which we would like to buy it, says Dixie.
Dixie believes his Lesotho project would not have succeeded without showing the buyers the type of produce that could be achieved. Some 1200 farmers in Lesotho are now growing asparagus on quarter-hectare plots. The total output is about 800 tons and increasing. They produce white asparagus which is peeled, trimmed and canned locally, by the Lesotho National Development Corporation.
Waste products from horticulture in the developing world can often be resold commercially to Western countries at comparatively high profits though opportunities are often missed for lack of information.
A pilot spin-off from the asparagus project is close to establishing a Western market for powder recycled from the 45% of the crop that is wasted. This can be dried, pulverised and sold at $5000 a tonne.
Samples were sent to specially chosen potential customers. The European market demands high biological standards - initially, more finely milled whiter and drier powder was requested, but the basic product was accepted.
The European market for white asparagus powder is mainly British. The rest of Europe is more accustomed to green asparagus. Yet, Europe may soon turn to the white variety now that it is becoming available.
Another example of the use of what would otherwise be wasted is the sale in Europe of Swazi cotton sepals to Europe, the Swazi-flower, as dried flowers for floral ornaments.
The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has just published a book entitled Horticultural Marketing in which Dixie explains marketing strategies. Market demands, availability of transport and the process of price negotiation are key factors in the success of any such venture.
An important spin-off from the search for foreign marketing alternatives is the development of an alternative local supply of a product in demand domestically.
For instance, in Pakistan, the director of a development bank was concerned with the low output of local farmers. With the help of High Value Horticulture - Dixies company - the bank made credit facilities available for alternative high value crops.
Suitable soil conditions for the development of mint crops were found, which also offered the possibility of intercropping with garlic. The right starting point is to get very good plant material, said Dixie.
A seed nursery costing just $10 000 was organised for small farmers using simple technology. The sample of mint oil presented to buyers in 1985 still keeps its freshness and is considered about the best available. Mint oil production can increase the farmers financial returns by about ten times compared to growing wheat, according to Dixie.
In this case the local market was big enough to absorb all the farmers produce. At last count, there were between 800 and 1200 hectares of mint crops. The crop is cut four times a year. Small local businesses run the oil production process.
Once the product proves attractive to buyers, whether in the domestic or the foreign market, the next step is to establish a business link. When the links are established, the process tends to run without a hitch.
For example, farmers in Swaziland planted tomatoes in the hope that a single buyer from Durban, South Africa, would purchase the whole crop.
Working with small farmers in a USAID project, Dixie and his group monitored the consumption of tomatos in South Africa and found that during the winter there is no local crop because of the frost.
Forty farmers in Swaziland joined forces and, that winter, sold the whole 1 80-ton local tomato crop to South Africa for an equivalent of about $20 000. This year the network is already set to repeat the process.
Ghana is another horticultural success story benefiting from a good local product and smart marketing. Pineapple farmers took advantage of the near-empty planes flying overhead from Nigeria on the return journey to Europe. Using them for distribution to Europe, their produce is now able to compete with pineapples from CdIvoire and Kenya.