Building trust, communication and comprehension between chain actors proves important for successful producer – buyer relationships. In this blog Jochem Schneemann of Fair & Sustainable Advisory Services presents the value chain of Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) in Cameroon. He worked for the Netherlands Development Organisation SNV and facilitated better linkages and relationships between producers and buyers. He will analyse the process, factors and actions that brought chain actors together.
The largest part of Southern Cameroon ( East, South and Central Province) is forested and the 'Forest supermarket' is rich. It offers bush mango kernels, moabi oil, ndangsan (a small nut used in sauces) and a local pepper and medicinal plant called 'maniguette', to mention a few. Traditionally the Bantou and pygmy (Baka) populations collect these for own consumption and the surplus is sold on the roadside. On markets throughout Cameroon these products are sold mostly for local consumption. Some products are traded to Gabon and Nigeria. There is considerable demand throughout the year while production is seasonal. CERUT and AIDEnvironment estimated the monetary value of NTFPs in South West and North West provinces of Cameroon at US$ 19 million (1998), being 3 % of the GDP for these 2 provinces.
Similar to what we see in many value chains, the NTFP producers in East Cameroon did not have much idea about markets and about the end consumers of their products and their requirements. As a support organisation we wondered why producers in East Cameroon did not sell more of their produce to the so called 'Buyam sellam' based in the East Cameroon provincial capital Bertoua. A buyer complained about low quality and unsuccessful negotiations . Producers complained about low prices and unsuccessful negotiations. This situation made us look further into the value chain: who is doing what, where do buyers (so called 'buyam sellam') buy their product; prices; what constraints and opportunities do they see.
A first step was a market analysis in major towns in South and East Cameroon. It showed that traders (even those based in East Cameroon) did not buy their products from producers in East Cameroon. Instead they bought in the province where they originate from: for most of them this was Central Province. Buyers found producers in East Cameroon unreliable and difficult to deal and negotiate with. Buyers complained that if they went to buy in East Cameroon, they often came back with only half a lorry of products.
A second step was talking with producers. We had gained the trust of producers due to several years working in the area. Producers complained that buyers often came unexpectedly: "Most of the times I was working in the farm when they did pass by", "They offered very low prices", "The volume I had available often did not match with the requirements of the buyer" and "I did not know what products and quality they were going to ask for". We made an inventory of the products that producers in villages in Mbang district in East Cameroon had to offer for sale.
Based on the first two steps we undertook the following next steps:
- Individual buyers/traders in the provincial capital were interviewed about their business, markets, suppliers and constraints. They confirmed above observations ( and also expressed the for more working capital. Three of them said they were interested to buy from producers nearby in East Cameroon if production volumes, delivery and quality could be guaranteed.
- We organised an introduction tour with one of the interested buyers to the seven villages where producers would sell. The buyer explained her quality requirements to the producers, and a price was negotiated with the producers. We fixed a market day that the buyer would come and producers should be ready with their product. Each village/group of producers indicated the products and volume they would be able to sell for that price. This meant that both parties had agreed to products, quality, price and finally about a date for the market day.
- As chain facilitator we later reminded all those concerned of the date of the market day.
- A few weeks later it was ´the Market day´. The lorry of the three buyers came and visited all seven villages as planned, villagers were ready with their products. The three buyers bought 90% of the total products that were offered at the fixed price and quality. 10% was not sold for reasons of quality or disagreements about price. At the end of the day they returned to town with a lorry full of products of desired quality. The buyers were satisfied and came back a second time to collect more. The producers also were satisfied and got the agreed price.
Success factors were that there was an advantage for both producers and buyer: so win – win.
The following competencies of the VC facilitator made it work:
- Ability to analyse the market, motives of chain actors and context
- Able to understand both the buyers and producers perspective and find a win – win scenario, giving both parties an advantage of the vertical collaboration in the chain
- Ability to communicate with different kinds of stakeholders and share with them information about the value chain and markets. They have different access to information. Through open communication trust was built with buyers and producers.
- By being transparent we were able to gain confidence of both buyers and producers and build trust between them: the producers trusted the chain facilitator as a result of intensive working in the producers' area. The confidence of the buyers was gained by showing interest in their business plus knowledge of the market and product (through the market analysis and survey). The introduction tour contributed to confidence between the chain actors.