Doctor of Economics
17 years' experience in the development sector in Africa, of which 10 years at International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), based in Rome, Italy
Presently Portfolio Manager for Africa.
Rural radio stations are neighbourhood radio stations that are specialised in the distribution of information concerning the rural world. They broadcast in FM exclusively and are thus very pleasant to listen to.
More radio programmes are broadcast in the local language than in French, thus allowing the radio audience, which is generally illiterate, to follow nearly all of the programming.
All of the above-mentioned assets guarantee a good future for the rural radio stations. As a result, they can be considered partners whose collaboration should allow development synergy with all the actors in the rural world.
PROMIC has therefore exploited this reasoning, among others, in order to improve producers' agricultural income, by distributing commercial information.
I. OBJECTIVES OF MARKETING INFORMATION BROADCASTING
II. COLLABORATION WITH THE RURAL RADIO STATIONS
III. INFORMATION BROADCASTING
IV. INFORMATION GATHERING AND THE ONASA CONVENTION
V. IMPACT OF THE BROADCASTING OF MARKETING INFORMATION BY THE RADIO STATIONS
VI. DIFFICULTIES AND SUGGESTIONS
The Micro-Finance and Marketing Project (PROMIC) is jointly financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Benin. Its objective is to increase income, well-being and participation in local development by poor rural households, and by women in particular, in a durable manner. It covers 85% of the national territory (North Benin), but only includes 40% of the country's population.
In its organisation, PROMIC's activities are carried out in accordance with three components, namely:
PROMIC's operation strategy consists of a partnership with the private or public sector, the farmers' organisations, and the non-governmental organisations which carry out activities in the field for the project. This is a "faire-faire" approach, in which the project's co-ordination unit concentrates upon planning, co-ordination, follow-up and controlling achievements.
Of the numerous activities carried out by PROMIC, the present report intends to describe the project's experience in the broadcasting of marketing information, which is one of the AGR component's responsibilities. The report discusses:
For the small farmer, the poor farmer and particularly the rural woman, the sale of their food products determines their monetary revenue from farming.
In Benin, the search for marketing outlets for farm products remains a limiting factor, not only at the production level, but particularly with regard to the monetary revenue of farm families. In order to improve this situation, it would be advisable to provide this vulnerable level of society with the opportunity to sell its farm products
at more remunerative prices.
Within the context of economic liberalism which has characterised Benin for more than a decade1, it is quite positive to note the recent development of local markets where food products can now be sold.
The three principal actors in the food marketing sector are the merchants, the consumers and the agricultural producers, with the latter being the least dynamic of the three.
An operation regarding the sale of beans.
Negotiating when all the actors have the same level of information available to them
Due to their lack of organisation, the latter group are generally the losers in terms of commercial exchanges. The merchants are by far the most dynamic group. As a result of their being present in all the markets in their locality, they are the best informed with regard to prices, as well as the shortage or abundance of food products. In addition, their financial power as buyers places them at an advantage with regard to the farm producers who are sellers. Given their skill at managing food stocks, they can regulate the quantity of goods available in the markets, thus enabling them to sell to consumers at advantageous prices, providing them with very high profit margins.
As a result, PROMIC's knowledge of the markets' functioning mechanisms, and the broadcasting of the prices at which these products are being sold, is of particular importance in remedying this situation, which is very strongly felt by the project's target group, the most strongly disadvantaged of all three groups.
The broadcasting of marketing information is meant to provide access to all the actors concerned (merchants, producers and consumers) of an equivalent level of knowledge regarding the prices of farm products during the course of the week, in order for them to be able to make a decision, in all honesty, whether to sell or buy, when to sell or buy, and at what price to sell or buy. The broadcasting of prices also allows the merchants and producers to make their decision as to whether to stock or sell their products in the market, in order to obtain a better price.
Radio has been chosen as the channel for the broadcasting of marketing information. This channel remains by far the most appropriate for a rural population that has an illiteracy rate of nearly 90%.
PROMIC has exploited the national political context which, following the democratic renewal that has occurred, has liberalised the airwaves, and authorised the development of an independent private press in Benin
The listing of authorised radio stations in Benin that are presently operating includes: (see the detailed listing in the Annex)
PROMIC's operation area is covered2 by:
All of the private and rural radio stations broadcast in FM3 exclusively.
Within the framework of marketing information broadcasting, PROMIC has established a partnership relationship with:
The partnership between PROMIC and the local radio stations was begun on 7 September 1999, during the course of a consultation and information meeting that dealt with the bases for collaboration, with a view to the broadcasting of marketing information.
At the close of the meeting, PROMIC committed itself to providing photo-copying and FAX machines to the radio stations for the transmission of information that they had gathered. In order to improve the professionalism of the radio station personnel who were involved in the broadcasting of marketing information, PROMIC financed the training of broadcasters at its radio station partners. This training was keenly appreciated by the broadcasters, since it allowed them to improve their professional skills. It should be mentioned that nearly all of the rural radio station animators had been recruited en masse, because they are local persons, and the radio station promoters are generally village communities.
Each radio station broadcasts the prices of food products that it has gathered in the markets in its locality, as well as the prices in the characteristic markets, such as the Dantokpa national market at Cotonou, and the Malanville international border market5.
The information broadcast by each radio station is contained in a summary file that is processed by the market researchers6.
These files indicate the average prices for the current week of the principal food products in the locality, such as maize, sorghum, rice (both local and imported), yams (tubers), yam "cossette", gari, manioc or cassava in "cossette", niebe beans and groundnuts.
This information is generally broadcast on the day preceding, as well as on the market day of the locality in which the rural radio station is installed. As an example, the Noon Sina Radio station in Bembereke broadcasts its marketing information on Wednesdays and Thursdays, since Thursday is market day at Bembereke.
The broadcasts are made in the national languages7 of the locality in which the radio station is situated. We should mention that there are a very large number of national languages in Benin.
In addition to broadcasting prices, the radio stations indicate the days on which the different markets are in operation. Markets which are in operation every four days and every seven days are the most frequent. The prices broadcast are given in local measures.
In African markets, in point of fact, food products are generally displayed on the ground, or occasionally on shelves, with no prices indicated. Purchases are made using the local measuring units:
Each market has its own individual measuring units. Nevertheless, certain measures such as the "Tongolo", the "Pai" and the "Sogo" can be found in a number of markets at the same time.
PROMIC, in collaboration with the ONASA, carries out two studies every year on the standardization of the local measuring units at the observatory for all of the markets. The standardization involves determining the equivalence between the local measuring unit, and the international measuring units such as the kilogram or the liter. The standardization evaluates, by market and by product, the international unit value of each local measure. This operation allows one to have an objective analysis of the comparisons, on the one hand, and the follow-up of the evolution of prices for statistical purposes, on the other. It allows listeners to get an idea of the differences in price s broadcast by the radio stations.
For products which are sold by the bunch,
the surveyor evaluates the weight of the bunch, in kilogrammes.
It should be pointed out that standardization studies have been made necessary because the markets adopt two principles. Based upon a product' s availability, certain markets maintain the same local measuring unit, but then raise or lower the price of that unit; while other markets maintain the product's cost at the same price, but change the local measuring unit. To cite one example, the Djougou market uses the "Pai" in its sales of maize throughout the year. The cost of the "Pai" measure of maize varies, depending upon the season of the year, i.e., the availability of the product at the market. At the Pehunco market on the other hand, maize is sold in two measuring units of different capacities (the "Kopourou" and the "Bapourou"), but always at the same price, throughout the year. In spite of this relative complexity in the functioning of the local markets, the principal actors, namely, the merchants, the producers and the consumers make sense of all this, and perfectly understand the broadcasts made with regard to market prices.
In rural markets, prices are not indicated on the products sold. Each consumer discusses the price with the vendor, until they reach a fair price that is acceptable to both of them (the merchant-vendor and the consumer-buyer).
For each transaction, there exists what one might refer to as the "First Price" and the "Last Price", or the price at which the product is sold. Before stating his first sale price, the vendor observes the prospective customer's social and economic condition (man or woman, salaried employee or farmer, white "European" or black "African").
Simply stated, the vendor takes advantage of the fact that certain customers have a notion of what the price should be (women, in general), or have high purchasing power (Europeans, in general), and therefore would not spend much time trying to get the price down.
It is this practice which the broadcasting of marketing information intends to correct, by providing the current week's food prices on the radio, for everyone to know.
The PROMIC observatory covers twenty-four (24) markets, where the prices and the flow of food products are noted by an investigator every day the market is open. In selecting the markets to be investigated, a number of factors are taken into consideration, the principal ones being:
Weight of a bunch of tomatoes
On market days, the investigator makes note of the prices, using a collection card. He visits the market three times: in the morning when it opens, towards noon when the market is at its busiest, and again in the evening, when the market is about to close down, so as to take into account the manner in which prices at this market fluctuated during the day. The prices are noted at eight different vendors, in order to see the price fluctuations for each vendor. At the end of the market day, the investigator summarizes his information, calculating the average price for each food product.
When approaching a vendor, the investigator discusses the product's price as if he were ntending to buy it. He makes a note on his card of the "last price" quoted to him, in order to be able to calculate the average price of the day for each product.
The summary card analyses the price tendency (upward, stable or downward) with regard to the last market day. It mentions, in addition, how busy the market was, the flow in the sale of the principal food products, and the agricultural period in question (sowing, harvesting, cultivation maintenance).
Partial view of the karite butter vendor's counter
PROMIC has drawn up a convention with ONASA regarding their collaboration, within the framework of the collection of market data. ONASA is an office that operates under the supervision of the Ministry for Rural Development, and is specialized in the follow-up of market observatories, prices and the flow of food products.
In accordance with the provisions of this convention, ONASA has agreed to provide all the technical assistance needed for gathering and processing marketing information. It organizes training and retraining sessions for market investigators, and carries out supervision missions of the market investigators. ONASA publishes information on the markets in LISA-SAR10, its MONTHLY BULLETIN.
In return, PROMIC provides financial support to ONASA for the carrying out of this operation.
At the end of a year of marketing information broadcasts, PROMIC organized the evaluation of the impact of the broadcasting of this information, in conjunction with the rural radio stations.
The methodology was based upon radio game shows, the "microphone on the sidewalk" program, listener mail, and round tables or radio debates, with invited guests chosen from selected target groups (merchants, producers, consumers).
The principal areas for evaluation included:
A. The usefulness of price broadcasting
B. The disadvantages of broadcasting
C. The periods of time (days and hours) desired by listeners for price broadcasting
D. The changes in behavior noted among merchants, producers and consumers, following the broadcasting of prices
E. Listeners' suggestions regarding price collecting and broadcasting.
All the persons who were interviewed, as well as the participants in the radio debates, were of the unanimous opinion that the broadcasting of price information is useful. Price broadcasting allows producers and consumers to get an idea about costs and prices before making any transactions. Having this knowledge before the transaction allows those concerned to be well informed when discussing pricing, and to buy or sell in a manner fair to all. In addition, knowing the prices that are currently being practiced in the region prevents speculation or other forms of abuse on the part of merchants.
The merchants (and particularly the wholesalers) maintain that price broadcasting allows them to identify the best marketing time for their products. It also provides them with the information they need in order to manage their stocks of food in the markets, so they can sell at the most advantageous price.
The only persons who found that there were disadvantages in the radio stations broadcasting of prices were the merchants. Their discussions with producers about prices at the time they bought their food supplies have become very sharp. Furthermore, if we examine the attitudes of the three actors (consumers, producers and merchants), we find that the producers are tempted to sell their products at higher prices than usual. In point of fact, the producers, knowing what prices are being practiced at the secondary assembly markets and the final consumption markets, are tempted to raise their selling prices at the level of their villages, or wherever there are no primary collecting markets. We should point out that the price of a food product in a primary collecting market must be lower than the price in a secondary assembly market, which, in turn, must be lower than the price in a final consumption market. Between these different market levels, the different costs for transport, reconditioning, police harassment, spoilage and risk must be added to the merchants' final sale price.
It should be pointed out that the different debates organized by the radio stations have resulted in smoothing out these types of conflict, and have made the producers more reasonable in their demands.
All the listeners interviewed expressed their preference for having the marketing information broadcasts at prime listening times. For farmers, this would mean in the morning (early, between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m.), and in the evening, at around 7:00 p.m.
The preferred days for the broadcasts were on the day preceding the local market, and on market day itself.
Nevertheless, the three target groups have no objection to the broadcasts being made every day of the week. if this were at all possible. Unfortunately, the rural radio stations only have several hours of broadcasting time available to them each day.
From the very start of the operation, the consumers and producers demonstrated their satisfaction at being provided with price information, while the merchants felt that the process was against their best interests. They attempted without success to cast discredit on the system, by spreading false rumors indicating that the collecting of price information in the markets was being carried out for tax reasons, namely, for the taxes which the farmers and retail vendors in the markets would have to pay.
Once again, the sensitization campaigns were conducted with the collaboration of the radio stations, in order to explain the objectives and validity of the operation.
To date, the broadcasting of marketing information by the radio stations has become a very appreciated operation. In particular, it has raised the producers' level of dynamism, among the other actors in the market.
The principal difficulty in organizing the broadcasting of marketing information is linked to the ineffectiveness of the telephone communication network in Benin. The price broadcasting system for the markets located throughout the area covered by PROMIC is based upon the exchanges carried out by FAX which transmit the price collection cards.
Each radio station directly broadcasts the prices collected by the investigators in each of their localities. The price collection card delivered by an investigator is generally sent by FAX from the radio station to PROMIC's headquarters at Parakou for centralization.
The poor quality of the telephone links continually hampers the transmission of market price data between the radio station and PROMIC on the one hand, and the feedback of the market price summaries directed to each of the radio stations, on the other. It is to be hoped that this situation will improve, with the installation of the optical fiber network presently being carried out in Benin.
The other essential difficulties include the lack of proper equipment, namely the insufficiency or obsolescence of the stations' technical apparatus, such as their recording machines, or the low training levels of the personnel employed at the rural radio stations.
The rural radio stations are neighborhood radio stations that are specialized in the broadcasting of information that concerns the rural world. They broadcast in FM exclusively, and are therefore very pleasant to listen to.
More time is available for broadcasts in the local language than for those in French, which allows the listeners, who are generally illiterate, to easily follow nearly all of the programs broadcast.
All of these advantages would indicate that the rural radio stations have a secure future ahead of them. As a result, they constitute a valid partner, whose collaboration will encourage development synergy with all the actors in the rural world. This, among others, is the logic which PROMIC exploits, in order to increase the agricultural income of producers, by broadcasting marketing information.