It was a warm day in October in the hills/mountains near Pokhara, Nepal. I was sweating. I wasn’t even doing much except standing there with my camera enjoying the scenery. Then a woman came up the hill from the steep grade below. She was sweating too, and no wonder – she was carrying a basket of tomatoes on her back supported only by a strap which ran across her forehead. She was heading to one of the more than 100 collection centres iDE Nepal has organized over the past few years.
She put the basket of tomatoes on the ground. I tried to lift it to see just how heavy it was. I wasn’t so successful but with the help of a friend, we got the basket onto the scale in the centre; it was 35 kilos (77 lbs!). She had been walking and climbing for about an hour – no wonder she was sweating.
She was a Nepalese farmer. She and the other farmers (mostly women) at the collection centres had worked hard to grow the tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, white radishes, brinjal and other produce which they had the opportunity to bring to these collection centres once or twice a week.
The good news is that their agricultural efforts are yielding a lot more food than their own families can consume. The bad news is that they are some distance (lots of miles) away from the regional markets where these can be sold. The good news is the community organized, run and led collection centres offer fair market access for those rural, remote farmers. Most collection centres have chalk or white boards which post the market prices in Pokhara (or other markets ) the day before, and on the current day. [All made possible by the ubiquitous mobile phones]. Collection centres allow the local farmers to engage with local traders (with access to transport) to sell off 100% of their produce for prices better than 90% of the regional markets. It’s a good deal. For the local traders it’s a good deal too – rather than having to go around to buy produce from a range of remote farmers, they can show up in one place to quickly buy fresh produce for immediate transport and sale in regional markets.
If every farmer was responsible to take their own production all the way to local markets, it would be too time consuming and too expensive (in terms of transportation costs) to make it worthwhile. Further, as a sole producer in the local market place, they would have no assurance that they could sell all of the produce on a timely basis for a fair price.
Collection centres are producer marketing cooperatives. The market access they provide ensure a profitable return on agricultural activities in the hills. They are efficient, but they also represent the opportunity for the women and men who use them to gain access to the income which is key to realizing other dreams and hopes. For iDE, the collection centres are just one more example that sustainable gains in household income and livelihoods are possible through a market based approach to development.
Al Doerksen – October 2012