Guar bean cultivation in Zimbabwe
Participatory market chain analysis: Building trust among market chain actors
Guar is a leguminous crop with commercial uses as a food stabiliser, mineral coagulant in mining, and animal feed. After demand was expressed by one large mining company in 2002, Practical Action provided some 500 smallholder farmers, mainly women, in the semi-arid Zambezi valley in northern Zimbabwe with inputs and advice to begin cultivation. Having successfully established guar production by 2005, the farmers began to think about how they could market their growing output more widely.
At this point, formerly production-orientated project staff realised they needed to re-orientate on developing the market system for guar. A preliminary market mapping was conducted in October, drawing on international literature and practical contacts in the sector. Four years engagement with guar farmers helped give the study team credibility in the eyes of other stakeholders.
The preliminary study showed that developing the guar market system would require co-ordinated action by several market chain actors and support institutions. The market chain in Zimbabwe is dominated by a single buyer (Agriseeds Ltd) which exports guar to South African for processing. However, if sufficient guar production were assured, the company is keen to develop a Zimbabwean processing facility to meet demand from domestic mining and livestock sectors. However guar processing plants are expensive and need high volumes to be viable, so this sort of investment is risky.
The study identified two main 'hooks' to engage Agriseeds Ltd and other stakeholders in a market development process: an offer of significant increases in the quantity and reliability of guar supplied to the Zimbabwe market, and help with developing livestock feed market for guar. This was a successful approach and Agriseeds Ltd agreed to send several managers and one of its directors to participate in a PMCA workshop. Meanwhile, two complementary processes were being implemented:
Firstly, guar farmers were assisted to form a Market Opportunity Group through a series of informal workshops where they could discuss issues and select representatives. Some farmers inspired others with a vision of what could be achieved in the subsector. Representatives were selected on the basis of leadership, farming capabilities, negotiating skills and articulacy. 90% of those selected were women, and many were entirely new to this type of process.
The group prepared for the PMCA workshop with a collective strategising session led by the farmers themselves. Practical Action's staff facilitated in carefully encouraging the group to consider the bigger market system map in addition to just prices.
Secondly, project staff identified support institutions with an important stake in guar sector, who could contribute to a Guar Interest Forum in future. These include: Henderson Research Station, doing research on guar as stock feed, and developing drought resistant, higher yielding cultivars; Ministry of Agriculture's extension services, whose local advisors could promote the crop and provide advice to farmers; and Dept. of Livestock Production and Development, with an interest in alternative sources of feed. Practical Action's work with guar farmers meant they knew these institutions well and had already established a degree of trust.
The first major PMCA workshop in March 2006 brought together farmers, Agriseeds managers and other interested stakeholders. Prior concerns that the agenda might be overwhelmed by the diversity of participants proved unfounded. In fact, the farmers led the agenda and took control, ensuring a healthy atmosphere of "give and take". They were confident, articulate and well organised: their own association contributed to the costs of their participation. The project team attributed this success to the way expectations were managed beforehand and to clarity about the purposes of the workshop.
The most important outcome of the workshop were "statements of intent". Agriseeds Ltd made commitments to provide farmers with timely inputs of treated seeds, fertiliser, chemicals; to establish easily accessible buying points at strategic centres; to support farmers access to guar as a stock feed, and to pay farmers competitive prices (taking into account world market prices and production costs).
The farmers agreed to use inputs for the sole purpose of growing guar; to expand production to at least 500 tonnes a year ( a 100% increase over previous season); and to supply all their guar production exclusively to Agriseeds Ltd. Both parties produced a timetable and agreed milestones for the next season.
Overall the process so far has been characterised by a high degree of realism, leaving participants encouraged and empowered. Engagement between farmers and Agriseeds Ltd is at an early stage, but Practical Action is already able to take a back seat in the process.