FROM THE FARM
Dimieari Von Kemedi
I have spoken with a few friends who say they don’t understand why I am involved in farming. They say its too risky and unprofitable, and too difficult – and they are partly right. But other parts of the value chain have their challenges as well.
Processing the crops we produce might appear easier, yet sourcing raw materials for processing is not easy. Not to mention problems with power, negotiating labor costs and ensuring productivity. The cost of raw ingredients can fluctuate wildly, and consistency of quality is not easy to maintain side by side with access to adequate quantities of feedstock at a reasonable price and time.
Next comes the challenge of product marketing and the struggle to promote your product against local competitors and imported or smuggled brands, and finding the right balance in margins between processing and marketing which may determine how quickly you sell.
But the biggest challenge lies at the heart of the intersection between farming and processing, and indeed between other critical stages of primary production and processing: logistics.
In farming, logistics determines whether your tractors, seeds, agrochemicals and fertilizers arrive on time. This in turn determines whether your season starts on time, whether inputs are applied at the optimal moment, and ultimately your yield and profit.
In processing, logistics determine how quickly you buy feedstock before prices begin to rise. It also determines how quickly you meet demand from your buyers. So for everyone, logistics determine how well you sleep.
As with all things planning is very important – planning way ahead of time. All arrangements with third parties must be completed several weeks ahead of when products or services are required. All farm inputs should be in store at least two months before the planting season. Adequate arrangements should be made to secure them against rodents, pests and thieves. Arrangements with delivery vehicles should be made well in advance as they disappoint consistently and may be slow due to factors such as bad roads and multiple checkpoints. Where possible pre-register trucks and with time you will know those who provide best service. Pre-registering trucks will also increase your options and insolate your operations from wild price fluctuations.
When transporting produce to processing factories, particularly early in the season as production is just about to be ramped up, it’s important to make transport arrangements well in advance – preferably with companies that have multiple trucks in their fleet. Trucks break down with near suspicious consistency. You must have your team ready to inspect all trucks before payment. And of course once loaded you should have a team member on board. Ensure that the truck has all necessary papers, and make sure they travel with a waybill. Sometimes suppliers are under pressure to deliver produce according to schedule but maintaining all quality checks and making sure truck drivers rest at intervals is more important.
High cost of logistics and uncertainty caused by bad roads and poor vehicle maintenance amongst other factors drives up our food prices. There is an opportunity for trucking companies to set themselves apart by providing reliable service delivery with predictable costing and delivery schedules.
All producers, processors and consumers are waiting for this service.
Dimieari Von Kemedi works with smallholder farmers in the Alluvial Agriculture network.