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close this bookFood from Dryland Gardens - An Ecological, Nutritional, and Social Approach to Small Scale Household Food Production (CPFE, 1991)
close this folderPart I - Gardens as a development strategy
close this folder3. Gardens, economics, and marketing
close this folder3.4 Marketing garden produce
View the document(introduction...)
View the document3.4.1 Women and Marketing
View the document3.4.2 Risk, Investment, and Return
View the document3.4.3 Cooperation
View the document3.4.4 Garden Income and the Household

3.4.2 Risk, Investment, and Return

Like gardening, marketing involves risk to the gardener because it is not possible for him to control or predict all the factors that influence its success. The gardener does not know exactly how much rain will fall and at what times, or which crops will be least affected by pests and diseases. Neither does he know exactly which fruits and vegetables will sell, how many people will want to buy them, how much they will be willing to pay, or how many others will be selling the same produce. The risks involved in making decisions based on these uncertain events must be carefully considered in any garden project promoting marketing. A market survey (section 4.7) can help assess the risk of market gardening.

To minimize the risks, marketing should start small, because the smaller the investments of time, labor, money, and water, the smaller the gardeners’ losses if there are problems. Another way to reduce risks is to only grow market crops that the household can use if they cannot be sold.

Processing and storing garden produce can also reduce the risks of marketing. If it is not possible to get fresh produce to market, or if the market price is not sufficient to repay the gardener’s investment, the goods may be processed, and stored, and consumed or sold later. Because processing adds value, the price of processed garden products such as dried amaranth leaves and tomatoes is almost always more than equivalent amounts of unprocessed ones. Such a reduction in risk and/or increase in income makes the extra work of processing worthwhile.

Figure 3.5 Marketing Garden Produce can be an Important Source of Income for Women

For example, a Dogon gardener in Mali took his large onion harvest to market.50 The fresh onions weighed 52 kg (115 lb), which, at the current market price of 75 Malian Franks (MF)/kg (34 MF/lb), would have given him (52 kg × 75 MF/kg) 3,900 MF. Because he had no immediate need for money he could afford to dry his onions and sell them later. When dried, his harvest weighed 8 kg (17.5 lb) and sold for 500 MF/kg (227 MF/lb) earning a total of 4,000 MF. If this gardener had stored the dried onions for several more months until onions of any kind become scarce he could have sold them for over 600 MF/kg (272 MF/lb). At that price the gardener would have made at least 4,800 MF, approximately 900 MF more than what the fresh harvest would have earned. Of course this is assuming that the gardener did not need the cash immediately and that the onions could have been stored without damage from pests or weather.

The value of the time and labor spent marketing garden produce or processing it for sale depends on the other possible uses of this time and labor (section 3.2.2). If the garden produce must be harvested and dried during a period of heavy labor demand, such as the time for weeding the fields, the cost to the household of labor diverted to harvest and dry garden produce would be extremely high and the market selling price would need to be high enough to compensate for this. However, at a less busy time for the men, such as during the dry season, the cost to the household of investing their labor in gardening maybe much lower. This may differ for women because the demands on their labor are less seasonal due to their year-round responsibility for maintaining the household (fetching water and fuel, child care, cooking), in addition to food production.

When more than one activity is carried out in a given time period, the amount of time invested in each activity is decreased. For example, if a gardener spends three hours selling her produce on each trip to the market, this time is considered part of the cost of marketing. However, during those three hours she may also make arrangements for religious ceremonies, buy food for her family, and visit with friends and relatives. This means that the time actually invested in marketing is reduced, making marketing less costly.

Just as investments or costs may have different values according to the situation, the same may be true of the value of returns, or cash income. For example, if money is needed to pay for an emergency such as medicine, that income will have far greater value and therefore be worth a greater investment than usual. Thus a man may be willing to spend however long it takes for him to sell US $5 worth of garden produce because he urgently needs that amount of cash. When the need is less urgent, his willingness to invest time and labor will also be reduced.

Gardeners sometimes choose not to sell their products directly to consumers but rather to a middleperson who then sells to the consumers. This saves the gardener time and sometimes expenses because middlepeople do the marketing and often transport the goods to market as well. Usually the gardener will not receive as high a price from a middleperson as he would have from consumers themselves. At the market the middleperson will have to sell the produce at a price that will earn him or her a profit. Sometimes this means that the gardener will receive a lower price from the middleperson than if selling directly to the consumer. However, if a middleperson is buying garden produce to sell in another area where market prices are higher, such as a large city, the gardener may be able to sell his produce to the middleperson for as much or more than the local market price.

Whether a gardener decides to sell his produce through a middleperson or directly depends upon market possibilities, transportation, the value of his time, and the return he hopes to receive. A fair and honest middleperson can work with a gardener or group of gardeners to the benefit of all. Middlepeople frequently have many contacts and access to resources like transportation, which are essential for marketing. But some middlepeople can be exploitative, seeing the relationship with the gardeners as an easy way for them to make money. Working with a middleperson can be especially risky when he is not well known in the local community. Problems can arise if the community is isolated and must rely on the middle-person’s honesty for information about current prices in distant markets.

Timing also affects the returns gardeners can get for their produce. Processing garden produce, as done by the Dogon gardener in Mali described earlier, is one way to time produce marketing to obtain the best prices. Hausa men with market gardens in northern Nigeria have devised ways to time the production of their garden crops, such as onions, to take advantage of seasonal changes in market prices.51 In this area onions are grown in the dry season and sell for the highest price during the rainy season, however, the gardeners need some income before that peak period. To meet that need some gardeners plant an early crop to sell locally and then plant again, later, to sell in the more profitable rainy season. Others plant only one crop of onions that are stored for sale during the rainy season. To meet their need for income before that time these gardeners sell fruits such as guavas, limes, and mangoes. Both these marketing strategies give the gardeners some early income, allowing them to wait and sell a crop of onions at the most profitable time.