Hibiscus in Sudan
Participatory market chain analysis: creating a nuturing environment for the markets
Hibiscus (H. sabdariffa) is a minor cash crop in arid areas of Sudan, traditionally consumed as karkadeh, a sweet flavoured drink popular during Ramadan. It is drought-resistant, requires little inputs and creates income for women farmers. European manufacturers also use hibiscus as the bulk constituent of many herbal teas. In past ten years Sudanese annual exports more than doubled to 23,000 tons (2001), worth US $ 20 million. These earnings are, however, threatened by competition from China and persistent difficulties in meeting export quality standards.
In 2003, Practical Action in Sudan began work with hibiscus farmers (who are mainly women) in remote western Sudan, the main production area. Initially farm plots were used to demonstrate better varieties and harvesting techniques. It soon became clear that the major problems concerned poor relationships and communications along the market chain. A preliminary market mapping revealed:
Export agents (in Khartoum & Port Sudan) frustrated by and financially penalised by their European buyers for the low quality, often contaminated produce they receive.
Punishing levels of local transit taxes en-route from western Sudan to the port - absorbing up to 50% of all revenue; combined with laborious export processing procedures.
Domestic traders and transporters with little knowledge or interest in improving quality controls or handling techniques to protect the fragile crop in transit to Port Sudan.
Farmers having little awareness of exporters needs, the potential for adding value by improving harvesting methods, or simple technologies for achieving this.
Preparations to develop the hibiscus market-chain began with three large meetings involving farmers, traders and village development committee members from 25 villages in north Darfur and Kordofan (the main production area). These two-day workshops explored market opportunities, and also involved service providers (government extension agents, private agricultural inputs suppliers) in understanding the problems and potential of hibiscus.
One objective is to stimulate farmers and traders to collaborate in implementing standards for higher value produce. To this end the village committees instigated a rural marketing network comprising farmers from different villages. The group met initially in Practical Action's office, but is now building a producers integration centre where activities such as bulking up and quality control could be undertaken.
Meanwhile in Khartoum, Practical Action organised national workshop that led to formation of an Hibiscus Forum involving exporters, input suppliers and government officials concerned with promoting the sub-sector. The Forum has produced a useful production manual, but has limited capacity to interact with producers from whom they are both socially and physically remote. Practical Action is now aiming to link the rural marketing network with the Forum.
Having worked with producers and village councils for many years Practical Action is highly trusted as a market facilitator, but it is less well known among the transporters, exporter agents and input suppliers. A few individuals have been engaged with encouraging results: one exporter is now paying extension workers to train farmers that supply him in a novel harvesting technique.
Further progress relies on identifying tangible initiatives that attract and enable more of these market actors to benefit from upgrading the hibiscus chain. The market opportunities or 'hooks' include higher production standards, lower taxation and more efficient regulation, and better services (seeds, storage, transportation) to raise revenues along the whole market chain. In February 2006, on the back of its preparatory work, Practical Action secured a project grant from the UK Comic Relief donor agency to step up development of the hibiscus market-chain in Sudan over the next 3 years using PMCA techniques.