Smallholder farmers often face the challenge of accessing markets and selling their produce at competitive prices because they produce in small quantities that may not be commercially viable.
The farmers are now being advised to adopt market interventions such as 'collective action' where they can come together as a group to pool their harvests and sell it in bulk.
A study conducted by the World Agroforesty Centre (ICRAF) in Cameroon has shown that effective implementation of collective action improves market access for smallholder producers of agroforestry products and reduces transaction costs leading to improved income and food security.
The study, published in the journal Current Opinions on Environmental Sustainability, says smallholder farmers, who are mostly in rural areas, often do not have access to information regarding prices in urban areas, furthermore, most production systems in Africa are done on a small scale and, hence, farmers acting individually are not able to participate in new markets such as supermarkets where larger quantities and standardization of products are often required.
ICRAF scientist and marketing specialist Dr. Amos Gyau and co-authors synthesize some of the lessons learned over two decades of implementing collective action, and cite studies that show how collective action in marketing agroforestry products has enabled farmers to access information and sell in markets which would otherwise be out of reach.
"Farmers are able to obtain the necessary information, meet quality standards and operate on a larger scale when they pool financial and labor resources together".
The scientists says that in view of the fact that most African countries are characterized by weak institutional structures that support agricultural growth and development, collective action is more likely to be efficient when combined with other interventions such as access to credit and market information among others.
The scientists conclude that the experience from Cameroon, offers an opportunity for effective implementation of collective action to benefit smallholder producers of agroforestry products by improving their access to markets and reducing transaction costs.
They however appreciate that collective action among farmers is difficult to organize, coordinate and manage and that one of the key lessons learned is that for collective action to succeed it should include the farmers' own motivation, favorable environment and the inclusion of social activities in the implementation of their group activities.
Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability