Let’s wait and see…

I've got what you want, so why don't we meet more often?

I've got what you want, so why don't we meet more often?

It’s an all-too-common scene: an NGO sets up a meeting between farmers and buyers, but few of the farmers or buyers actually attend.  The NGO invests time and money into engaging potential buyers of farmers’ products and advertizing the meeting to farmers with the goal of creating a link.  It seems like a win-win situation, but often things don’t go as planned.

Last week our project set up a cattle sale day.  The day was advertised widely, a large scale was procured, and the buyers came with trucks and cash, ready to take home purchased cattle.  Four farmers arrived a few hours after the scheduled start time, with only two heads of cattle between them.

Why didn’t more farmers come with their cattle?

We put the question to the farmers that did show up: “We wanted to see if the buyers would actually come, and what price they were offering.”

To get cattle to the sale yard, a farmer would have to walk their cattle as far as 30 km.  If farmers did come with their cattle, they could lose bargaining power with the buyers because the buyers know that the farmers don’t want to walk their cattle all the way back to the farm, and so the buyers can offer reduced prices.

During a previous sale day, the opposite occurred.  Farmers arrived, but only one buyer arrived with a truck.  Just the same, it’s a significant loss for a buyer to bring a truck to a sale only to find no cattle, so they also play wait-and-see.

At the root of this failure to coordinate are issues of trust and power.  Farmers and buyers do want to transact with each other, but they mistrust each other, each seeking to gain bargaining power over the other.  The typical result is that neither party shows up, and no deal occurs.  It’s a classic Prisoner’s Dilemma.

An NGO or other third party can play a role, acting as an honest broker to bring farmers and buyers to the table (or sale yard), but you don’t build trust overnight.  There’s another sale day on September 4th.  We’ll see how many more cattle get sold.


2 Responses to “Let’s wait and see…”

  1. 1 Wayne August 27, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Interested in hearing more about this role of a 3rd party. What does an honest broker do? Sounds like organizing sale events isn’t having immediate results. Is there something else on the horizon? What’s different on Sept 4? Or are you playing out the sale event approach until you see enough evidence indicating one way or another?

  2. 2 Elizabeth September 17, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Now that it’s Sept 17th, I’m interested in hearing the results from Sept 4th. Did the NGO as an honest broker work?

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Working to include smallholder farmers in agricultural markets, we know there are no easy answers. This blog is a place to ask "What does it take to make it work?" and to share what we're seeing and learning.
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