Not long ago poor farmers in rural Angola were bringing a fresh harvest of beans and maize to market for the first time. Months earlier an extension service brought in the seeds and tools they needed to increase yields beyond the subsistence level, helping them generate a surplus they could sell to the market. But soon they were faced with harsh reality.
The market was already flooded with the same exact crops they had pinned their new livelihoods on – no one was going to buy.
“It seems that everywhere you go, you hear stories like these,” explains Nicholas Minot, senior research fellow in IFPRI’s Markets, Trade and Institutions Division, “promotion of a commodity (often fruit, vegetable, or other perishable) and then the realization that there is no market nearby or that the market is flooded.”
The effort which aid organizations put in to researching region-specific crops and farming techniques is commendable; sustainable crop growth is essential for survival, and with the right seeds and tools resource-poor farmers have the opportunity to bring their crops to market.
However, when extension services swoop in to promote crops with great market potential but neglect to investigate the actual demand for those crops, they can actually cause farmers to lose money and be more reluctant to try new crops and farming methods.
In her doctoral thesis, Rural Realities between Crisis and Normality: Livelihood Strategies in Angola, 1975-2008, sociologist Hilde van Dijkhorst shows that aid frequently dominates the lives of the rural-poor, and how easily initiatives intended to alleviate hunger and poverty can actually be counterproductive.
Van Dijkhorst illuminates this issue with the case of the Angola farmers who brought new crops to a market, only to find it flooded and the prices too low to cover their costs. The extension service that helped these farmers failed to investigate what aid similar organizations had distributed to nearby towns. The results left farmers with plenty of crops to eat, but demand plummeted for everyone at market leading to greater poverty within the region.
Van Dijkhorst surmises that the habit to speed up assistance resulted in the oversight. If the extension service had spent more time analyzing the needs of the region, the lack of diversity could have been spotted and a more sustainable development solution found.
In today’s volatile economic climate this type of oversight can be devastating for development in resource-poor areas. Though market access is an essential component of poverty reduction, it is absolutely necessary for aid organizations and extension services to first receive extensive training in the analysis of marketing options so they can promote sustainable growth.
You can read a summary of Hilde van Dijkhorst’s thesis by clicking here.