“WE plead with the Government to help us find markets for our crops”, that is an excerpt from a long statement delivered by a leading farmer in Kagera region while speaking to journalists in Dar es Salaam recently.
It was a common cry among many small holder farmers in Tanzania, which have normally been directed towards their major benefactor – the state.
Experience shows, since Tanzanian economy was fully liberalized in 1986 giving a leeway for a government to do other activities apart from engaging in business, market linkage services have been provided by the private sector.
This is in no way telling that there hasn’t been any support from powers that be, in reality there is no government on earth – be it socialist or fully capitalist – that has completely abdicated its responsibility of managing business affairs of the country, as that would be shooting oneself on a foot.
The state can find markets for its citizens in multiple ways; through negotiations with the counterparts resulting into bilateral or multilateral agreements, direct buying of crops for storage in national reserve agencies or consumption for their institutions, and reselling the crops to overseas markets – although, usually this happens in emergency as it happened in 2018 on Tanzanian cashew nuts saga.
Common to all, the state can affect the domestic market through its monetary policies which either discourage or promote spending power.
But the current situation in Tanzania has drastically changed since the end of command economy. State control in business matters has been spectacularly diminished – one of the intelligent decisions done by the country to abandon a philosophy that has proved failure and never worked anywhere. The status quo for that matter calls for totally different approach that our farmers needs to understand that they are now belonging to a totally different master – the market.
Under this new system, a small holder farmer who is usually perceived by many as a weak and helpless, is subjected to the same rules of the game – rule of the jungle – which rewards the strong and penalize the weak. In this, the moment you are uninformed and unskilled is the moment you are taken for a ride by your peers. The system is, in the words of Mwalimu Nyerere, “heartless”. No one is ready to spend his time and money to help you up, it is your effort and readiness to learn new tactics.
From time to time, farmers will need to enter contracts with their prospective buyers, mostly companies. These contracts will help them access loans from the creditors and clear doubts with the authorities which doubt the authenticity of the cargo. But past instances shows that many of the contracts have never been profitable to primary producers and the profound cause for their incapacity to swim with tides of the new ocean.
To have a contract that will benefit you, one need to have good negotiation skills and to get there, a farmer needs to be so updated with the trends of information of the domestic as well as global markets’.
By and large, signing a contract is one thing and to honour it is a totally different thing. Implementing an agreement is where a true character of a business partner is checked and if is unfavourable, makes it hard for one to be trusted for a next opportunity. The bigger difference between the former entrepreneurs and those of a recent epoch lies in character. Time management and trustworthy are the reigning tenets of this competitive economy, and anyone who won’t be able to exhibit them, will be deemed unfit and so stands high chance of being wiped out of the chain.
Those who have been involved in linking farmers to markets are good witnesses to the above assertions. A farmer (usually representing a cooperative) say, from Mtwara, will travel to Dar es Salaam for deal making. An engagement with a prospective buyer will end up with a contractual agreement, ready for delivery.
In an ideal business world, you will expect the crops to be delivered in accordance with terms and conditions stipulated in the contract. Not that easy. In a week or so, complains will emerge that price written is not profitable and that time agreed is too short, there needs to be some extension. Finally, there will be nothing to show for.
So this leaves a very hollow question, do farmers suffer what they deserve?
If there is anything that needs to be done at the moment is to see if we should leave to nature (market) to teach the unfit or intervene and make a weak weigh like strong ones or if we are to think like fools, we can weaken the strong so that the field get levelled.