Those working in agricultural development in developing countries have used the agricultural value chain concept since the beginning of the millennium.
Actually, there has not been any universally accepted definition to this concept as different agencies have defined it differently. But agricultural value chain is increasingly used to describe approaches aimed at improving market prospects and improving profit margins. Value chain development is key and a great strategy to reduce rural poverty in developing countries. This is also in line with one of the several duties of Teks Global.
A value chain is not merely a case of a farmer selling his produce to a buyer, but to ensure that market linkage may be established. It’s not the market sequence of one commodity such as tea. The distinguishing feature of a value chain is that all the links are coordinated with value added at each stage and the final market fixed firmly on the side.
The tomato value chain in Cameroon
Tomatoes are warm-season crops and are sensitive to high humidity/rain, thus, it is a seasonal crop requiring special attention.
The tomato value chain system in Cameroon includes input suppliers, farmers, marketers, and processors. First, farmers nurse tomatoes in nurseries before transplanting to the field. The input supplies required include seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, nursery supplies, greenhouse, ancillary and equipment. But because Cameroon does not produce most of these inputs, tomatoes become a little more expensive than what the farmers can afford.
The difficulty in accessing inputs and technology further makes it impossible for farmers to maximize production. Worst still, most of them have very small holdings, making commercial production almost impossible. Most of the tomato producers are peasants or small-scale farmers, although there are a few medium-scale and large-scale farmers.
This is the process of tomato distribution in Cameroon. Farmers sell their first harvests to end-users in the vicinity of the farm or through wholesale marketers to local market or processors. Processors get their supplies directly from the farmers or the dealers. This component of the tomato value chain is, however, not organized in Cameroon. As such, there’s little or no value added to the product, an issue Teks Global seeks to resolve through its agricultural training programs.
Challenges encountered by farmers in the tomato value chain
Limited access to productive resources
It’s common knowledge that tomato farmers tend to experience more constraints in accessing agricultural productive resources.
According to FAO, such limitations involve several dimensions such as ownership of land which is the central factor of production in agrarian economies. In most parts of Cameroon, unequal rights to land ownership can be traced out of a diverse statute, religion, customary and local norms and thus, put tomato farmers at a disadvantage.
Limited access to finance and financial services
Agricultural finance is among the most difficult type of finance to secure. Tomato farmers experience constraints to source for sponsors to finance their agricultural projects. The main reason being a majority of them do not have collateral security like land to obtain loans.
Lack of management and absorptive capacities
In Cameroon and like in most other African countries, farmers generally lack the necessary management and absorptive capacities required to profitably utilize available financial and productive resources. This segment of the population operating in the tomato sector has not had the opportunity for interaction with financial institutions. Neither have they had the exposure that is necessary to develop skills for accessing formal credit.
Limited accessible farm to market roads
African rural producers of tomato continue to face difficulties in accessing input and output markets. Much of this is due to insufficient and poor quality of rural infrastructure.
According to FAO, the overall level of agricultural infrastructure development in most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is lower than that of other regions of the world, making it the lead impediment to agricultural productivity, Cameroon inclusive.
Limited input-based infrastructure
Tomato farmers have limited access to seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment, and machinery. For example, despite its potential to boost production and increase profits, levels of fertilizer use remain very low in Cameroon. Teks Global shall provide to farmers fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural inputs necessary to facilitate productivity.
Limited access to information and technology
The lack of formal education, prevalent in previous decades, continues to affect local tomato farmers today. Knowledge and training in farming methods and techniques are critical for farmers of all categories.
Technical and entrepreneurial skills are key given the increasing tomato/food demands, the changing context of agricultural trade, unpredictable long-term effects of climate change which the tomato farmers have limited access to.
The perishable nature of tomatoes requires a good transportation network and storage and adequate processing facilities. Limited access to these facilities has led to the loss of about 50% of the tomatoes produced in the country.
Using baskets instead of crates for storage and transportation causes heavy spoilage, low fluctuating prices, and low tomato quality.
The high cost of storage materials has been a major problem to the tomato farmers leading to high wastage.
Possible solutions available to farmers of the tomato value chains
❖ Improvement of the farm-to-market road facilities to facilitate farmers’ movement to the market while maintaining their qualities.
❖ Setting up a good funding system which the agricultural sector can solve by setting up a Tomato Revival Fund that will finance improvement in all sectors of the tomato value chain. Stakeholders in this sector can use such a fund to support rural development work and local production of equipment and at the same time, make soft loans available to tomato farmers willing to go into the business of production, handling, transportation, processing and marketing of tomato.
Here, we can identify two groups of entrepreneurs who will need encouragement namely the large and small scale industries. The small-scale farmers can form clusters. And these clusters, working in collaboration with large-scale industries, can encourage farmers with input supplies and guaranteed prices for their products.
❖ Agricultural training programs organized by Teks Global to its members, partner, investors, and employees
❖ Capacity building/financial coaching-SISMP (Smart Income Skill Mentorship Program) to skilfully equip farmers and expose them to modern trends of tomato farming.
❖ Agricultural investment and networking
❖ Investment management.
Addressing existing problems in the tomato value chain in Cameroon and preparing to feed a growing population will require careful consideration of each of these complex challenges at the local, regional, and international level.