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Rural market imperfections and the role of institutions in collective action to improve markets for the poor

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Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have liberalized markets to improve efficiency and enhance market linkages for smallholder farmers. The expected positive response by the private sector in areas with limited market infrastructure has however been very limited. The functioning of markets is constrained by high transaction costs and coordination problems along the production-to-consumption value chain. New kinds of institutional arrangements are needed to reduce these costs and fill the vacuum left when governments withdrew from markets in the era of structural adjustments. One of these institutional innovations has been the strengthening of producer organizations and formation of collective marketing groups as instruments to remedy pervasive market failures in rural economies. The analysis presented here with a case study from eastern Kenya has shown that marketing groups pay 20–25% higher prices than other buyers to farmers while participation was also positively correlated with adoption of improved dryland legume varieties, crops not targeted by the formal extension system. However the effectiveness of marketing groups is undermined by external shocks and structural constraints that limit the volume of trade and access to capital and information, and require investments in complementary institutions and coordination mechanisms to exploit scale economies. Successful groups have shown high levels of collective action in the form of increased participatory decision making, member contributions and initial start-up capital. Failure to pay on delivery, resulting from lack of capital credit, is a major constraint that stifles competitiveness of marketing groups relative to other buyers. These findings call for interventions that improve governance and participation; mechanisms for improving access to operating capital; and effective strategies for risk management and enhancing the business skills of farmer marketing groups.

Keywords: Collective action; Institutions; Kenya; Market imperfections; Producer marketing groups; Transaction costs

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-8947.2008.00167.x

Affiliations: 1: International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, Nairobi, Kenya 2: Egerton University, Department of Agricultural Economics and Business Management, Njoro, Kenya 3: International Crops Research Institute for the semi-Arid Tropics, Nairobi, Kenya

Publication date: February 1, 2008

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