Field report from Côte d’Ivoire
N’Kalô is a service that provides high value, analysed and synthesised information to meet the needs and capacities of agricultural stakeholders in Côte d’Ivoire. This information is used to better market agricultural products and improve incomes by reducing business risks.
N’Kalo, which means ‘I am informed’ in the Dioula language, is an agricultural market information service that was launched in Cote d’Ivoire by the NGO, RONGEAD in 2009. It aims to facilitate market access for value chain players and strengthen the capacity of producer organisations.
“Small-scale producers and farmers used to have problems in marketing their products and often had to sell at a loss,” says Soungari Sekongo, a market analyst and coordinator of N’Kalo Cote d’Ivoire. “N’Kalo creates transparency and helps overcome problems related to agricultural market information - availability, reliability, validity, etc.,” adds Sekongo.
This service is available in five African countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal. Initially focused on cashew nuts, it was gradually expanded to include other export crops (shea nuts and sesame seeds), with gum arabic soon to be added. In partnership with the Ivorian marketing assistance board (OCPV), food crops such as maize, onion, groundnut, cassava, yam and plantain are also now covered.
“N’Kalo provides training and enables rapid information exchange and decision-making,” says Sekongo Fougnigue, head of Bondoukou cooperative.
Information is passed on via weekly bulletins sent by email and/or SMS. The service conveys raw information along with a synthesis report and analyses on the market situation, including decision-making advice. A typical SMS message includes two main components: the farm- gate price range for each area covered, a price trend and recommendations on whether or not to sell the concerned products. The national analyst collects information weekly from a network of informants, including sellers, cooperatives and sometimes officials. In 2014, some 7,000 farmers had subscribed to the SMS broadcasting service for cashew at an annual fee of €0.76.
“It’s extremely difficult to accurately measure the impact of this service as many factors are involved in producers’ decision-making. However, we have some evidence,” says Pierre Ricau, market analyst at RONGEAD. For the 2012 cashew nut season - which began with a price hike followed by a slump - 60% of producers who received market advice from the service managed to sell their produce before the price drop, whereas only 30% of nonsubscribers sold their produce in time. Moreover, N’Kalo conducts annual surveys on the impact of its advice by comparing the average price obtained by a producer who strives to minimise the risks but whose sales are dispersed throughout the season, with that of service subscribers. The latter is always higher.
On a more qualitative level, Ricau considers that the service facilitates negotiations and reduces mistrust between producers, sellers, exporters and processors. Better informed producers are more rational in their behaviour and speculative phenomena based on rumours or public announcements are avoided. Information may simplify relationships between members of cooperatives or producer organisations, while also boosting sales and minimising risks. “For cashew, for instance, bundling is one of the best practices recommended by N’Kalo because it enables small producers to increase their margin from €0.01 to €0.04/kg,” claims Sekongo.
A sustainable service
For Silue Souleymane, a producer based at Karakoro in the Korhogo sub-prefecture, “N’Kalo completely meets our needs. It helps us produce well and sell better, so cashew nut production is profitable. In Poro region (Korhogo), 33,000 t of cashew nuts were marketed in 2014, compared to 12,000 t in 2013.” The service also heightens producers’ awareness regarding the commodity chain and market, while supplying reliable information. “Knowing how to manage crops and becoming informed about rising and falling prices is a good thing,” says Ardjouma Ouattara, a producer at Ouangolodougou.
However, some areas do not have access to the Internet or the telephone network. “The presently limited communications service coverage does not facilitate regular exchanges with rural people,” adds Serge Kedja, ICT project manager.
RONGEAD is currently involved in projects focused on harvest projections and weather forecasting, but the key challenge is to make the system sustainable.
Two approaches are being considered: a multi-sectoral approach to pool already available resources so as to increase the supply and thus reach a larger number of farmers; and a multi-country approach to broaden the service coverage area and in turn increase the number of potential users.