Market Development Ideas, from Aswan to Bamako — By Schafer Bomstein, Program Associate with the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A.

Improved market connections in Mali can boost household income and food security.

My recent trips to Mali and Egypt were planned with unrelated objectives, but ultimately they shared some unexpected links.  I traveled to Bamako, Mali to support an evaluation of the Food for Progress Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program links smallholder Malian farmers to markets and provides them with access to microfinance loans.  I met with staff members to better understand the program’s activities, successes, and challenges.  From Mali, I flew to Aswan, Egypt for the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) Market Development Leads Workshop, where all of the Lead Officers from country offices that support market development came together to discuss trends, successes and challenges in their countries’ programs, and strategize for future market development programs.

AKF sees market development as a strategy for increasing incomes and job opportunities especially for the poor in targeted communities. It is about more than just helping smallholder farmers and micro-entrepreneurs to increase their output. It is also about connecting those producers to markets by facilitating linkages with other actors such as food-processing ventures, traders, and suppliers of seed and other inputs. By helping farmers and business owners to find markets for their products, AKF is helping farmers to increase their incomes and escape poverty.

The workshop in Egypt highlighted the challenging employment markets in Egypt and Pakistan and showed how AKF programs can link smallholder farmers to larger firms in the private sector. We saw several AKF market development programs in Aswan that illustrated this, including kitchen gardens and a community-run nursery.

An Egyptian farmer displays crops from her kitchen garden during the AKF Market Development field visit.

AKF Egypt also supports a fertilizer and seed cooperative run by women, where poor farmers in the community can go to purchase high-quality inputs. AKF consults with local traders to determine which crops are in the highest demand and then provides that information to farmers in its program, with trainings in improved growing techniques. I was impressed by how AKF is including more and more market development and private-sector principles in its activities. The presentations, trainings, and field visit illustrated how important connections are for smallholder farmers to increase their incomes and feed their families.

After our field visit, I was walking back to the hotel with Alpha Bamadio, the Market Development Lead in Mali, and we started discussing the similarities and differences between the programs we had just seen and market development programs in Mali. Alpha and I talked about ways to apply the principles we were learning in Aswan to the third phase of the Mali Food for Progress Program, slated to begin this month.

During the phase of the Mali program just ending, Alpha explained, farmers had increased the quantity and quality of their crop production. Still, they had a ways to go before they will be fully integrated in the market system. In the program’s third and final phase, AKF will address this problem by bringing together buyers, wholesalers, input suppliers, agro dealers, transporters, financial institutions, and farmer groups in “Value Chain Stakeholder Platforms.” There they will discuss their needs and challenges, and create linkages that help bridge those gaps. Creating this dialogue seems like a great way to help farmers and other actors in the market decide how best to meet their needs and develop the local agricultural economy.

My experiences in Mali and Egypt helped me to better understand AKF’s work in market development, as well as its increasing emphasis on linking even subsistence farmers to the private sector. Participating in both the evaluation of the Mali Food for Progress program and the Market Development Workshop provided me with the opportunity to collaborate with a team member in Mali to develop a plan on how to link farmers to markets in ways that help them out of poverty in a way made sustainable by their new connections.

Source: Partnership in Action Org


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