D Murali

Poorest on advantageous trajectories

D. Murali | Updated on December 04, 2011

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Stated simply, ‘improvement in road infrastructure' may sound like a drab phrase. But, to farmers in Siay in the Philippines, it meant ‘significant improvements to the efficiency of the kalamansi value chain,' informs ‘ Markets and Rural Poverty: Upgrading in value chains,' edited by Jonathan Mitchell and Christopher Coles ( www.idrc.ca). Transport costs were reduced by some 92 per cent – equivalent to $0.17/kg, or $1,683 for an average kalamansi (a.k.a. golden lime and panama orange) production per farmer of 9.9 MT a year, the book adds.

Similarly, a payment process, which is a mundane affair for finance or accounting professionals may have social dimension, as evident in Papua New Guinea. There, a company, in partnership with support organisations, introduced a new payment process for women palm fruit labourers, notes an essay, citing the work of Koczberski (2007).

Initial technological approaches to address poor participation in harvesting loose fruit had very limited success because these failed to address the underlying issue caused by male-female power dynamics, the researchers found. They report that direct payments to women via their ‘mama card' incentivised female labour by giving the women control over income and allowing men to pay them housekeeping money in kind by giving them fruit to be registered on the cards. “This reduced intra-household conflict and resulted in better nutritional outcomes for household members, because money controlled by women was spent almost entirely on family needs.”

Increased returns

The book avers that poor people in rural areas can, under certain circumstances, significantly increase their returns from agricultural activities by upgrading themselves in value chains. Urging that there is no reason why poor rural households should have to choose between social protection and enterprise development, the authors observe that both are necessary to reduce poverty.

Government can do more than simply trying to avoid harming rural areas; it can take many important positive steps to improve the prospects of the rural poor, the book states. “The provision of economic infrastructure to make it easier for rural producers to get products to urban markets is critical. In addition, providing effective agricultural extension services which include market as well as technical support, would impact on large numbers of the rural poor.”

Among the research projects discussed in the book are the following: incense value chain study (India), collective action in fonio (Mali), upgrading small-holders in catfish value chain (Vietnam), unlocking market opportunities for small scale cassava farmers (Tanzania), linking poor producers of bay leaf to markets of essential oils and spices (Nepal), and certification schemes for octopus (Senegal).

To those who wonder why we should do a value chain analysis, a forceful reasoning in the intro chapter is that such an analysis provides researchers with a tool to ask important questions about the distribution of power and value across the chain. “This analysis can identify the scope for improving incorporation into the market – increasing returns and reducing risks. It acknowledges the political and competitive nature of the relationships involved and explores the difference which the organisation of poor producers or labourers can make.”

Valuable read for those who strive towards the rise of the bottom billion.

Published on December 04, 2011

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