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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


Trade between different areas of the world has gone on for much of human history, for example, in the drylands of the Middle East and the Saharan-Sahel region of Africa. This trade involved exchange of a good produced in one area that was not produced in another. Markets today offer many goods that cannot be produced locally, such as salt, radios, batteries, or some medicines. In some cases the same goods are both produced locally and imported, like fruits and vegetables, snack foods, tools, clothing, and shoes. When locally produced goods are sold at small, local markets the producer and consumer share the same resource base and similar living conditions, and their exchange remains in the community. Buying an import that sells for less than a local product makes sense in the short run for the individual or household, but can have negative consequences for the community. As in any situation where there is no local control over decisions that have local effects, difficulties may arise. Most money spent on imports leaves the community, except for a small portion if a local middle person is involved. The effect is frequently felt most by the poor because it is often their production activities that are displaced.

The vulnerability of communities that are less and less involved in production for their own markets is evident not only in the Third World but also in industrialized countries. In the United States, for example, textile workers and others are losing jobs to factories in the Third World where production costs are much cheaper. These factories keep their costs low by paying their workers very low wages; these workers must also endure extremely poor living and working conditions.

3.4.1 Women and Marketing

Money necessary for household maintenance and child care must often be provided by women, and does not come from a common household fund. Where this is true, marketing garden produce can be important as a source of independent income for these women (Figure 3.5). In some areas where women’s market gardening has become more profitable, men have started competing with them after seeing how much income can be earned by market gardens.

In a project in Botswana a cooperative of 29 women and 4 men from the poorest households in the community work 33 garden plots that are hand irrigated with water stored behind an adjacent dam (section 3.4.3).45 Produce is eaten by the gardeners, shared with those who helped in the garden, or marketed. For 21 of the 33 gardeners, gardens are their major or only source of cash income. But as the commercial potential of such gardens is realized, better-off individuals have started claiming entire dam sites for themselves, and some have suggested that it may become necessary to reserve gardening sites for groups of the poor, most of whom are women.46

On the Tonga plateau of Zambia, a fruit and vegetable growing cooperative was begun by local villagers. Most of the women involved used land borrowed from their husbands, and as the project became more profitable the husbands took over. In response, 26 of the 33 women in the co-op now obtain their garden plots independently of their husbands and many of the women (44%) feel that their garden income has made them less dependent on their husband’s income.47

Sometimes the opposite situation can occur. In an area of southern Senegal, extension agents first promoted gardens to men.48 But the men soon stopped gardening and the women took over. The men said this was because gardening involved fetching water, a women’s activity which the men felt was inappropriate for them.

Marketing garden produce provides women an opportunity to leave the house and socialize, especially with other women. In the market, relationships can be formed or reinforced, and information, goods, and services are exchanged. Market days may be one of the few times available for important activities such as these.

Where women’s activities are restricted by religious customs, such as the seclusion of Moslem women, earning income must be done in or near the home compound. The possibilities include gardening, food processing, sewing, craft work, teaching and raising small animals.49 Garden produce can be sold to customers who come to the women’s homes, or sold outside the home by children.

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.

3.4.3 Cooperation

Working together often reduces the risks of marketing, especially for poor gardeners. Cooperation does not necessarily eliminate competition in selling produce, but it can help prevent concentration of the benefits of marketing in the hands of a few. Projects to support market gardening frequently include the establishment of formal cooperatives with elected officials.

In Botswana, a small group of gardeners, most of them poor women (29 women and 4 men), joined together in 1981 to create a formal group under the Ministry of Agriculture called the Tshwaragano Vegetable Production Group (section 3.4.1).52 Group members pay a small annual fee and elect a grower’s committee, the group’s governing body. While each gardener controls her or his own plot, the group establishes and implements rules for participation in the garden and it negotiates with individuals and organizations outside the group for such things as transport to market and technical assistance. In addition to the individual plots whose profits go entirely to the plot holder, some areas are worked collectively. The profits from the sale of this produce are added to the annual fees and used to purchase tools and cow and chicken manure for fertilizer.

Traditional community groups, such as those based on age, may provide the basis for either formal or informal garden cooperatives. Informal cooperation is common among friends, relatives, neighbors, and residents of a community. An example of informal cooperation can be seen among the Hausa market gardeners in northern Nigeria described in section To minimize the risks of local markets being glutted, they sell their goods in groups made up of close male friends who are often relatives. These men put their goods together to be sold as a package to a middleperson. Everyone in the group receives the same per unit price for their goods. With this arrangement they do not have to compete with each other, which would lower the returns many would receive, and might even prevent some gardeners from selling anything.

Groups of market gardeners from rural areas outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, made contracts with groups of residents in the city to supply pesticide-free fresh produce.54 The gardeners bypassed the middlepeople who had forced them to use chemical insecticides and fertilizers, and the city residents got healthier produce. Both groups realized the necessity for political organization to make such arrangements work.

Market gardeners can cooperate in producing or processing goods from the garden; watching over and selling the goods of another gardener who cannot come to the market; agreeing on a minimum price below which they will not sell a particular good; or uniting to negotiate with truck drivers, middlepeople, merchants, and others. An example of women gardeners in Senegal joining to form a cooperative for providing transport of their garden produce to market is described in section 15.8.2.

Whatever the form, cooperation can provide support for group members and a stronger voice for pursuing needs and interests that group members share.

3.4.4 Garden Income and the Household

Who in the household controls the income received from marketing garden produce depends upon who grew it, who sold it, and their sex, age, and relationship to other household members.

In the Yatenga area of Burkina Faso, Mossi men and women garden separately on land belonging to their clans. A portion of their produce must be contributed to the family, but the rest can be sold by the gardener. Both men and women prefer not to ask their spouses for help in the garden, since they would then have to share the income. Instead they pay younger siblings (brothers or sisters) or other children.55

Among the Dogon of Mali, market gardening of onions is done mainly by men.56 Even 14-year-old boys are given garden space to grow a crop of onions for market. Women, however, are not included in the distribution of resources like land for onion gardening, and often they do not enjoy any benefits as a result of income earned by male members of their household from selling onions.

Peulh and Toucouler women in Mauritania must provide the sauces that are an essential part of the meal, as well as tea, sugar, housewares, soap, clothing, jewelry, and their daughter’s dowries.57 Clothing, jewelry, and dowries are indicators of these women’s social status and thus affect their position and voice in the community. Since the drought in the early 1970s, irrigated gardens have become more and more important for these women as a source of income for purchasing such goods.58

In contrast, married women in lower Egypt live with their husband’s family, and the mother-in-law has complete authority over her daughter-in-law.59 Especially in the early years of marriage, the mother-in-law controls all income earned by her daughter-in-law, including that earned from selling garden produce, eggs, and dairy products. Whatever money the daughter-in-law receives, if any, comes from her husband who is allowed to keep only a portion of his own income. All other earnings are given to the husband’s parents who run the household.

As the household changes through time, its need for income may also change. When the children grow up and are married, money will no longer be needed for school fees or dowries. Different needs will arise and the responsibility for providing the household with income may also shift, for example, from the older generation to the younger one.