This section addresses two tasks that must be completed before detailed planning can begin for the MIS: selecting the site where the system will be implemented and identifying the participating group.
The first step in implementing an MIS is to decide where the activity will take place. Not every community will want to participate in an MIS nor would it benefit from carrying out this kind of market analysis. It is important to screen both community interest and the potential benefits that an MIS could provide before moving further in the process.
In some cases, an MIS may be a poor use of time and resources. Even when a group of local people requests marketing assistance, it is necessary to do at least a brief appraisal to ensure that the MIS is likely to work well and provide significant benefits. The same is true when an outsider proposes a community as an MIS site. Nobody benefits from doing an MIS in a locale where it is unlikely to be a useful exercise. The FAO project's experience suggests that for an MIS to be successful the site must meet certain prerequisites. The following indicators can be used to determine whether it makes sense to begin planning an MIS in a community.
Is there an expressed local need and interest in using marketing information?
An MIS can only work if it provides reliable, accurate information and people see the utility of that information for their business activities. Since the information is gathered by local people, its accuracy depends entirely on how seriously they take the collection of good quality data. Without local interest, people will not have the incentive to gather good information. This rather quickly develops into a vicious circle in which poor information has no use and people lose interest in the whole system. Unreliability leads to underuse and underuse leads to unsustainability. Expressed need and interest can be judged by looking at whether local people already try to use marketing information (via radio, television, canvassing of traders or other producers) or bring up marketing questions and information needs without being prompted in initial discussions.
Does the community produce certain goods above the level of subsistence?
Where people produce only to meet their own needs and there is no surplus to be marketed, the need for marketing information is not evident. However, if there is a potential to increase production and enter markets that have not previously been tapped, an MIS could be used as one element in planning the most effective strategy for entering the market. It may take more in-depth research to ascertain if there is a capacity to increase production of existing goods in order to generate a surplus, or if the community might diversify into new products and if there is a market for those potential goods.
How accessible are markets and sources of market information?
If access to information sources and markets is severely limited or unreliable, an MIS may not be viable. The implementation of an MIS is considerably more difficult when markets are difficult to reach because of great distances, poor transport or roads that are frequently impassable. The high cost of transport must also be considered. A community and a facilitator considering an MIS should investigate these access issues by analysing the transport infrastructure and access to markets that would be part of the system. Can local people get to these markets? What are seasonal constraints? Can goods be transported to markets? (See also Peru example p. 65)
IS there a level of community organization/cooperation that will facilitate carrying out an MIS?
The implementation of an MIS requires a certain amount of cooperation and trust among users. Tasks for data gathering are shared in a group that then has access to better information. An MIS does not work well in cutthroat competitive settings where every producer is out for him or herself and is unwilling to collaborate with others. An MIS is easier to put in place if there is already a group working together on some aspect of business activity because the MIS can build on these existing activities. This does not mean that production needs to be communal. In developing this manual, an MIS has been used with individual producers or traders who cooperate in the collection and analysis of information that can help them as individual entrepreneurs. The degree of social organization can be assessed by asking the following questions. Do community or producer groups already exist in the area? Do local people work collectively to harvest, produce, process, transport or sell goods? Are there local leaders who are widely respected by the potential users of the MIS who could encourage people's interest in the system?
In the Philippines, the initial MIS activities were linked to FAO forestry activities already under way. Discussions were carried out with two villages to assess their appropriateness for an MIS.
In the first site, Sta. Catalina, farmers produced crops for sale at the road-side or in a nearby weekly farmers' market. There was a dynamic farmers' association that was very active, especially in training farmers from other villages. A recently-formed women's association was carrying out its own projects. When participants in the forestry project were asked to identify agroforestry products that could be studied in an MIS, they identified a wide range of goods including herbal medicines, seeds, pineapple, vines (collected in nearby forests and then made into handicrafts), coconut-based soap, bamboo furniture, rattan, patjuli (a plant from which perfume can be extracted), cultivated root crops, wild banana stems, tomatoes, citrus fruits, cut flowers and charcoal. Farmers also reported that they informally monitored local markets and radio broadcasts for price information.
The second site considered for MIS testing was a village on the island of Mindanao. Farmers there felt that an MIS would be useful for a number of products including wild rattan, rattan handicraft furniture, gold, banana, almaciga resin, bamboo, coco-husk charcoal, fish, fruit, rice and some timber species. However, few, if any, products were produced at more than subsistence level. For the few surplus products produced, transportation to market was difficult as the village was far from roads orjeep trails.
In deciding between these two sites, Sta. Catalina was selected as the initial test site for several reasons: (1) There was better access to local and regional markets for data collection, (2) transport of products and information dissemination would be easier, (3) a greater number of products were produced above the level of local demand, (4) the site had a strong farmer organization, (5) there was more local knowledge of and experience with marketing, and (6) farmers expressed a strong need for more market information.
In early tests of an MIS, it is often best to start where conditions are the most favourable in order to ensure the greatest chance of success. If the first community's MIS works well, it can serve as a working model for other villages that may have less favourable conditions.
The facilitator in Uganda, a professor at Makerere University, found himself confronted with difficult trade offs as he selected the sites for trial implementation of the MIS. He felt that the communities selected should be close enough to the university for him to give them the support needed in setting up the MIS, but he also wanted to select sites with a strong interest in developing MIS activities. Eventually he found that he had to compromise on these criteria.
He decided to focus on people involved in trading NTFPs. First he compiled lists of people and groups who sold handicrafts at roadside stands. He visited these sites to gather information about their activities and their interest in MIS. After these visits, he narrowed his selection to two sites: Lukaya and Mokono.
Lukaya is located about three hours from the university. A group of handicraft traders is clustered along the road. They order baskets, mats and trays from artisans in their village and sell them to passers by. They were highly enthusiastic about setting up an MIS in order to learn more about market demand.
Mukono is only one-half hour from the university. Its cooperative organization, the Mukono Butebo Women's Craft Association, is composed of independently-operated craft stands. When traders in Mukono discussed the possibility of an MIS they demonstrated little enthusiasm for participating in the trial.
The facilitator realized that neither site was perfect for MIS implementation. Lukaya was far from the university /and therefore difficult to support) but very enthusiastic. Mukono was located nearby but only marginally interested in the MIS concept. Pilot tests were started in both locations using somewhat different approaches. It was hoped that the proximity of the Mukono site would permit frequent reinforcement visits to compensate for the initial lack of enthusiasm. Similarly, it was hoped that the enthusiasm of the Lukaya participants would compensate for fewer meetings with the facilitator.
Closely related to the selection of the site, is the identification of the MIS participants. In some cases, it may be impossible to separate the two since the presence of a strong, well-organized group that wants to participate in establishing an MIS may be the principal reason for choosing a particular site. In other cases, however, the facilitator may see great potential for improving the marketing of NTFPs in a certain area, but there may not be groups in place that are obviously suited to carrying out the activities. In such a situation, the facilitator would have to start by considering how s/he might help the community get organized to undertake MIS activities.
In most places the MIS will be targeted to one specific group in the marketing chain. In the Philippines, the participants were small producers who wanted to get better prices and sell their goods more effectively to traders. In Uganda, the participants were not producers but the traders who bought handicrafts already made and then sold them to roadside customers. In other places, the participants may be the people who harvest or process a certain good. Some groups may decide to limit the group further, according to specific needs or concerns, such as women's groups or illiterate people. In determining who will participate, the principal questions to be considered are:
This field manual will distinguish between two categories: operators and users.
The operators are the people who actually make the MIS work by their active involvement in designing the system and collecting and analysing information. These people will typically be organized into some sort of a group to carry out the activities of the MIS.
The users are the people who use the information generated by the MIS. They may do nothing more than glance at a notice board once a week in order to decide where to sell their produce. Users will typically be individuals who are involved with NTFPs in the community. There is no need for them to be formally organized, although they may assemble from time to time for informational meetings or training in how to use MIS information. In some cases, the operators and the users will be the same people, while in other cases, there may be a smaller group of operators and a larger group of users.
While details concerning the structure of the MIS will be worked out later in the planning process, it is important to begin to identify who will be involved right from the start. The operators, in particular, will be fully involved in gathering information and planning the system so they must be identified early on. In some cases, the facilitator will work with an existing organization (a farmers' group or women's association) which provides the operators for the MIS. In locations where people have requested marketing assistance, there is often a local organization that has defined as one of its goals improving marketing of the goods produced and/or traded. In the Philippines' pilot test location, for example, the constitution of the farmers' cooperative included a commitment to improved marketing. In cases like this, the potential operators will be fairly evident from the start.
In some locations, the facilitator may have to start by helping previously unorganized people involved in NTFPs (women who sell wild fruits by the roadside, for example) organize an informal group to carry out MIS activities.