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Non-timber forest products marketing: field testing of the marketing information system methodology

Abwoli Y. Banana
Department of Forestry
Makerere University
P.O. Box 7062
Kampala, Uganda


Despite their overall economic importance, studies have shown that the proportion of the final sale price of non-timber forest products (NTFP) received by the local level producers or processors is extremely small. The main reason for the low profitability of NTFP enterprises is the lack of an organized information system to help individual producers organize production and distribution, determine appropriate prices, select markets, follow supply and demand or promote merchandise.

An evaluation of the two marketing information system (MIS) field test sites in Uganda of the Forests, Trees and People Programme revealed that MIS had a significant positive impact on the two communities. The information on product sales was used in both communities to adjust production and stocking levels and product lines and, in the process, increase the profitability of their enterprises. MIS was also used to change product mix and to target different market niches.

The impact of MIS seems to have been greater in the community (Masaka) that participated the most in the design of the system. They had the greater appreciation of the potential value of MIS.


Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) have received increasing attention and are making significant contributions to local economies. In India, for example, the NTFP sector provides over 30 million jobs (Koppell 19 93). The continued importance of NTFPs as a source of income and employment for the people at the grassroots has led many people to initiate or increase production and to harvest NTFPs for various markets.

Despite their overall economic importance, studies on NTFPs have shown that the proportion of the final sale price that the small-scale collector, producer or processor gets is extremely small and therefore, that profitability is low. The main reason why NTFP enterprises are not more profitable is the lack of an organized information system to help individual producers organize production and distribution, determine appropriate prices, select markets, follow supply and demand or promote merchandise. Even when there is market information, it is frequently not disseminated to local small-scale producers.

In 1992, the Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP) developed guidelines for the creation of local-level marketing information systems (MIS) for NTFPs. The objective of developing MIS was to assist producers increase the income they derive from their small-scale NTFP enterprises, while at the same time learning about marketing, the production chain, simple accounting and new production processes. This knowledge should also increase the leverage and market power of the local producers and sellers.

Development of a methodology for the local design and operation of MIS was initiated in 1992 in the Philippines (3 sites), and tested in the Solomon Islands (2 sites), Bangladesh (1 site), Uganda (2 sites) and Peru (1 site) in 1993.

The range of participants, the kind of information they collected and the type of products for which they collected information varied widely. In the Philippines, Bangladesh and the Solomon Islands, farmers and swidden cultivators focused on marketing information about cultivated and gathered agricultural and forestry products, including tree leaves, fruits, nuts and lianas. In contrast, in Uganda, participants were groups of small traders and producers of baskets, mats, chairs, stools and bags derived from NTFPs. The MIS was structured to collect and analyse information on sales from the stalls and determine consumer preferences.


Markets are potential outlets for products. They include places and institutions where people are interested in selling or purchasing a given product or service.

Marketing encompasses all the activities involved in determining and meeting the needs and interests of customers, to maximize profits. Marketing involves `finding out what the customer wants and helping to set up the production/marketing system which supplies that demand and maximizes income' (Dixie 1989).

Marketing information includes all the data that help those involved in production and selling to determine and meet the needs and interests of the consumer.

Marketing information system (MIS) is an organized procedure for gathering and analysing information. It involves collecting, analysing and distributing predetermined types of marketing information (table 1) for informed decision-making and increased bargaining power.

Non-timber forest products (NTFP) include all tangible products, natural, crafted or processed, derived from forests or any other land under similar use, other than timber (Chandrasekharan 1995).

Table 1. Content of a marketing information system

Prices for products

Price differences-retail, wholesale, farmgate

Explanations for changes in price or demand

The names and locations of traders

The volume, quality and packaging requirements of various markets and traders for different products

Price variations by market for products

Sales and marketing channel alternatives (direct sales, middlemen, cooperatives, wholesalers, retailers, marketing boards)

Distribution channels that exist (transportation alternatives, storage facilities)

Promotion opportunities (product shows, advertisements, incentives, packaging)

Terms of payment alternatives (barter, credit, cash, labour)


Steps taken in creating local-level MIS for Uganda

Selection of sites in Uganda

The following factors were used to determine whether a given site was suitable for the establishment of MIS:

Using the above criteria, two participating communities were selected, one in Mukono town, 10 km east of Kampala (Mukono handicraft seller), and one in Masaka, 80 km west of Kampala (Bamuna supermarket).

Getting baseline information

One of the two participating communities (Masaka) proceeded through the entire design process before starting to collect data. Using participatory rural appraisal (PRA) methods, it made each design decision as a group. Using the checklist presented in table 2, it obtained baseline information about the goods that are produced in the area, production levels, use and sales of various NTFP.

Table 2. Forest and tree products questions about the NTFPs to be covered by the MIS

Which non-timber forest products are harvested/produced in the area?

    During which season are these products produced?

    Are they or could they be produced/harvested on a sustainable basis for the foreseeable future?

    During which season are they used?

    Who uses these products?

    How are these products used?

Are there any products that are not produced or sold that could potentially be produced/sold in the future?

    If so, why are they not currently sold?

What happens to the products after they are sold?

    Are local people aware of where the products are ultimately used?

What problems are currently faced in attempts to sell non-timber forest products?

    How are local people trying to solve these problems?

Designing the system

Having gathered the relevant information, the community proceeded to design the MIS. Each design decision was discussed by the community to ensure that all the relevant considerations were thought about.

The primary design decisions made during the PRA exercises addressed the following points:

Implementing the system

Once the design process was completed, implementation of the MIS commenced. Adaptations to the design were made during the process of implementation. The implementation stage consisted of, organizing collection and analysis of information, establishing the monitoring and evaluation structure and instituting the training programme.

The importance of local participation in the design process

Active participation of users in the design, operation and evaluation of the MIS is crucial to the success of the system. This is because the overall goal of any MIS is to serve the needs and interests of the target (user groups). Involving local people in the design process ensures that the information gathered and that the approach taken to data collection are appropriate given local circumstances. It also increases local ownership of the MIS and commitment to its sustained operation.

To test these assumptions, the second participating community (Mukono group) did not go through the whole design process. The group met with the local field test facilitator twice, was given predesigned forms and was taught how to collect marketing information. This community used the information collection forms designed by the Masaka group (table 3). Training in analysis and use of the information took place once data collection had started.

Table 3. Bamuna supermarket data collections sheet

Items sold No Size Colour Types of customer Other items needed


Large basket



Findings of the study

Using MIS, producers and sellers of non-timber forest products were able to determine which products sell best, and hence which products to offer for sale in future (introducing new products and eliminating others). The information also indicates the product quality and quantity that are most in demand by the customers (table 4, for example from Bamuna).

Table 4. Bamuna supermarket -NTFPs sold during August 199?; Overall sales of different products

Sold Size preferences
  Tourists Locals Total Small Large Total
Mats 5 14 19 6 13 19
Trays 18 10 28 18 10 28
Baskets 72 45 117 76 41 117

Colour preferences

  No. sold   No. sold

Plain white

Green + purple

White + red

White + green





Small baskets



Purple + red

Red + green


Green + purple

White + orange

Yellow + green

White + purple


Orange + yellow

White + green













Total 19   76















Large baskets

Orange + green


Red + white

Green + purple + red


Green + purple


Purple + red









Total 28   41

At the end of every month, the numbers of items of each type sold were analysed and discussed by the participating stalls and producers. The results showed that there was a high demand for baskets, followed by trays and mats. It was advisable, therefore, to invest more in baskets than in mats. In the basket sales, small baskets were preferred. A total of 76 small baskets were sold in one month compared with 41 large baskets sold in the same period. However, the demand for large trays was higher than that for small ones. Colour also influenced customer choice. Tourists preferred brightly coloured baskets and trays while local people preferred plain ones. Tourists were the main purchasers of all the handicraft items sold. The handicraft producers should therefore target the tourists specifically.

Impact of MIS on participating communities

An evaluation six months after implementing MIS found that it had had a significant impact on business practices and marketing in both sites. Additionally, the MIS had improved the general confidence of participating groups and their willingness to collaborate on other projects.

A secondary objective of the project was to determine if the level of community participation in the design of the MIS had had an impact on its effectiveness. The MIS was designed according to the community choices in Masaka while in Mukono the facilitator designed the information collection system without community involvement but based on the Masaka information.

Masaka site

At Masaka, the introduction of the MIS led to significant changes in business practices. The impacts of the MIS are arranged of their importance to participants:

Improved ability to respond to consumer interests

Mukono site

At Mukono the MIS, once again, had an impact on business practices, but the order of importance of the factors affecting impact was slightly different from that at Masaka. According to participants, the following are the most important changes:

Programme shortcomings

The programme was generally a success; however, some significant shortcomings were identified:


Plate 25. Handicrafts from non-timber forest product raw materials, at Mukono,
10 km along Kampala-Jinja road, Uganda. (photo: A.Y. Banana)

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