Selling to the cities
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CTA. 1998. Selling to the cities. Spore 76. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48135
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore76.pdf
Thanks to rapid urban expansion in ACP States, farmers are shipping more and more food to capital cities, and towns. This could be a great stimulus to agricultural production ? as long as the supply chain from harvest-time to meal-time (storage,...
Thanks to rapid urban expansion in ACP States, farmers are shipping more and more food to capital cities, and towns. This could be a great stimulus to agricultural production ? as long as the supply chain from harvest-time to meal-time (storage, packaging, transport and distribution) works well by keeping losses and expenses to a minimum. To succeed, farmers will have to adapt to the new demands of the urban middle classes, especially for a more varied diet. The needs of the poorest urban communities must also be recognised. The introduction of the continuous working day (6.30 am - 1.30 pm) for civil servants in the early 1990s in the government area of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, has brought a new breath of life into their ritual of the daily break. At the end of the morning, they head off to the nearby banks of the river Oubangui, where local delicacies can be had from cafés consisting of a grill and some planks, and roofed with sheets of corrugated iron. Street food is a booming business in the mega-cities of Africa. Workers who travel by bus everyday to their work in the centre of Abidjan or Dakar from the outlying suburbs of Yopougon or Guediawaye stay downtown for their lunch break. The result: prosperity for the street vendors and owners of small eating houses. Street food, new food Changes in eating habits are going hand in hand with new dishes and new tastes. In many popular districts of towns in the Sahel, yaos (women cooks) from Benin are a great hit with their recipes from the coast. Many a customer no longer wants the single dish of a ball of tô made from sorghum or millet, or of cassava meal (attiéké, gari). Such food is often called 'all-terrain food' or 'food aid' because it fills the stomach. In the Mahavoky neighbourhood of Antananarivo (Madagascar), eating establishments along a canal serve up soups, and dishes of nem (spring rolls). Some offer chunks of bread piled high with chopped vegetables and minced meat. The sandwich has become the meal. All these modest dishes are signs of success. There are no serious food shortages in the towns and cities. Farmers are managing, in good years and bad, to feed city dwellers. It is a remarkable change from not so long ago. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, at the time of independence in the 1960s, nine-tenths of the population was rural. Now the total of people living in towns and cities is nudging 40%. If current estimates come true, it will reach 55% by the year 2025. The situation is not, though, a cause for concern, according to the authors of the West African Long Term Perspective Study (1). The rural drift of people migrating from country to town, long seen as regrettable, has turned out to have some blessings in disguise. The town is no longer seen as a millstone around the neck of development strategies, but as a motor for change. The demand of urban consumers is a stimulus for those rural areas with the best links to the cities, as well as, obviously, for agriculture in the peri-urban areas that ring the city (see box). There is just one note of caution to be sounded, and no small one at that. These trends imply differing paces of development: isolated rural areas get forgotten, whereas most dynamic interactions take place between the city and 'useful' rural areas. Another fundamental shift has been the privatisation of the food distribution chain. Private enterprise is taking over more and more from statal bodies, in particular the ineffective Cereals Marketing Boards. In Côte d'Ivoire, the chain is covered by the Ezzedine family, of Lebanese origin, who came to the country in the 1930s. In 1969, they set up the Centre-West Trading Company (SOCOCE), before extending their wholesale distribution network to other cities. More recently, they opened a number of supermarkets and, in November 1996, a hypermarket (Espace Latrille) in Abidjan. Elsewhere, other businesses are trying to get a competitive foothold on each rung of the ladder, although they are less well 'integrated' than the Ezzedines in terms of their presence throughout the entire chain. At the production end, farmers face several problems, principally a lack of information. The agro-economist Abdoulaye Pape Seck of the Senegalese Agricultural Research Institute (ISRA) deplores this, and refers to the case of the Dakarois peninsula: 'Farmers are not properly aware about the changing purchasing habits of consumers, and, more generally, they lack a reliable information system on all products. Consequently, they cannot adjust their approach to the realities of the market.' At the level of village storage, much progress has been made, such as grain silos protected against rodents, and well-ventilated facilities for vegetable conservation. The stage of moving goods depends on the quality of the road networks. This is not a major problem for the average farmer in Côte d'Ivoire, who has good access to tarred roads and well-maintained rural tracks. In Madagascar the situation is less secure. Take the case of Aubin Bako, president of the Circle of Malagasy Farmers (CAM), who grows a variety of crops (primarily rice, but also cassava, maize, taro, bananas and cloves) on a seven hectare farm, 160 km north of the port of Toamasina (formerly Tamatave). 'In our area, it is the collectors working for the large traders who still call the tune,' he rues. 'They have small boats to get around the problem of bad roads. The only alternative for a farmer who does not want to accept prices which are too low, nor see his crop perish on the spot, is to carry them by back or donkey, for 15 km to the nearest town'. Modern and informal sectors The food transport sector in Africa is, generally speaking, rarely well-endowed. An expert in this field, Jérôme Lombard, describes the sector as 'very segmented'. He refers first to the market for commodities ('wealthy' freight) which in fact shapes the major arteries for transport between areas of production and processing plants or export outlets. Then there is the market for food products ('poor' freight), which has greater constraints, for example in the form of far-flung sources of supply, and run-down roads. Transport in the food sector is often run by small operators who have little capital and usually few special skills, and who cover the risks of the business by diversifying their activities (2). At the consumption end of the chain, a major focus is on re-furbishing existing markets (covering market stalls, providing water and electricity), and on building large wholesale markets, as in Bouaké (Côte d'Ivoire). In future, both the central government and new local authorities will have to make sure that these essential facilities are featured in urban development plans. The food distribution sector is organised in a way that allows the modern and the informal approachs to co-habit. In the modern sector, there are production contracts with guaranteed purchases, removing many of the risks for the parties involved. The informal sector bustles with imagination and job creation. Here, it is often women who take the lead. In Dakar, almost 50,000 women are active in small-scale food processing. In Cotonou (Benin), about 2,500 women are involved in the maize production chain alone. Sometimes, the two sectors clash, as in the case of the 'cube mania', where the faddish demand for Maggi sauce cubes has knocked the traditional soumbala condiment, based on fermented Nere (Parkia biglobosa) seeds, off its commercial pedestal (3). The poorest urban dwellers, however, living on the edges of the cities, are not touched by such struggles. Their problem is just to get food. Speaking to this issue at the most recent World Food Day (16 October 1997), Jacques Diouf, Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said: 'We need to establish specific social programmes which will give more direct access to food'. (1) The West African Long Term Perspective Study undertaken jointly by the African Development Bank, the Club du Sahel of the OECD and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) based in Ouagadougou (1994). (2) Presentation made at a seminar on 'Food supply and distribution in the towns of French-speaking Africa' (Dakar, FAO-ISRA, April 1997, summarised by Laurence Wilhelm). (3) See 'Bouillons-cubes importés contre condiment local' (Grain de sel, issue no. 8, l'Inter-Réseaux développement rural, Paris, December 1997).