26 February, 2013

It ain't heavy

I’m discovering African markets while travelling for ILRI. Last month I was in Tamale, the biggest town in the Northern region of Ghana, to facilitate a training on agrifood marketing and value chains for farmer beneficiaries of the Volta 2 project. So I took the opportunity to visit the central retail and wholesale markets there.

From past literature on agrifood marketing in Africa, I had come to understand that one of the plagues of markets on the continent was the lack of common measurements for mass and volume, which was very detrimental to farmers and consumers. One woman farmer involved in the training explained: a common mode of measurement used by stakeholders in the value chains are large bowls or basins. They fill these bowls up with grain and buy or sell the product at a given price per bowl. However, the bowls can be filled up to various degrees: flat up to the rim, or with the product piling up above the rim. Traders are known to change their bowl-filling practices depending on whether they are buying or selling. The farmers at the training complained that when they are selling grains to traders, what the trader measures at 3 bowls, they could measure at 3 bowls and a half! I was even told the bowls could be adulterated by filling up the bottom with material so the outside volume looked the same but the containing volume was actually much smaller. This is a source of great transaction costs in African markets because farmers and consumers have to bargain not only the price of the goods, but also the way the goods will be measured. The solution to this, according to past literature, would be the introduction of weighing scales.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see that in the central retail market of Tamale, all the butcher stalls were equipped with proper weighing scales, thus allowing butchers and consumers to transact meat and agree on its price per kilogram. Using a weighing scale can also help consumers buy the quantity that they really need for the size of the household, thus avoiding food waste in areas where refrigeration is not widespread in household kitchens. In the butcher stall photographed above, there were two scales: one hanging scale for large beef carcasses and one smaller scale for cut meat chunks. Unfortunately, scales were still rare on the stalls selling fresh produce and dried fish where the products were still being sold by the bunch or by the stack.

He ain't heavy, he's my brother
The Hollies, Very best of The Hollies, EMI