Community Growers

Small growers, villagers, farmers' groups, cooperatives and individuals (recognised here as ‘community’ growers) commonly receive inferior prices for teak compared to commercial entities. In Cote d’Ivoire, for example, villagers have effectively been robbed of the value of their resource. The reason for this situation is that community growers suffer many disadvantages. They do not know the value of their crops and possess little strength when marketing their produce. They fall prey easily to middle men who offer them poor prices. Many lack knowledge of best growing techniques and effectively downgrade the value of their plantations through poor practices. In addition, they cannot benefit from forest certification because it is generally too expensive. As a result they have inadequate access to lucrative markets.

TEAK 21 has examined this issue and provides innovative suggestions about how to overcome these problems.

Teak in mixtures
“community growers suffer many disadvantages compared to private growers; TEAK 21’s aim is to find ways to overcome these disadvantages”

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Bamboo: potential for mixing with tropical hardwoods
“If done properly, mixed cropping promises to enhance the value of many hardwood crops”

The private and community sectors, working in unison, are the most appropriate entities for the development of new plantations

Private plantations tend to be geared to the generation of wealth for a relatively limited number of (often) overseas investors. As such, donors and NGOs tend to regard them as falling outside the scope of development initiatives. On the other hand, the quality of community plantation developments tends to lag well behind private-sector initiatives and the gap is widening. Community plantations are often less well-managed and it has proven difficult for smallholders to obtain forest certification because of high costs.

In addition, small-scale plantations often cannot guarantee consistency of supply. This means reduced access to the more lucrative markets and serious consequences in terms of the prices that communities can receive for their products. Even in those cases where the quality of the timber is comparable to that produced by commercial entities, large differences in value have been recorded for standing teak belonging to village communities.

Farmers Group
“A farmers’ group in El Salvador: unlike private and government sectors, many community growers suffer disadvantages; they do not know the value of their crops and possess little strength when marketing their produce”

On the other hand, cooperation between local people and commercial entities can be of mutual benefit. In 1990, IIED in association with sociologists from Chulalongkhorn University (Bangkok) completed an exercise in plantation planning for social, economic and environmental benefits (Sargent (1990), unpublished). In this exercise, local people were invited to participate in the design of a plantation, and to identify ways in which they wished to co-operate with the investor. The investor had purchased a core area of land for tree-growing and was open to the concept of providing market and technical assistance to out-growers. He believed that the full involvement of the community would avert and reduce the threat of intentional plantation burning, which was the practise where local needs had been overlooked. In the event the local people identified a broad spectrum of opportunities for co-operation. Net present values were calculated for all these opportunities, to ensure a positive outcome for both the investor and the local community.

Communities can overcome many disadvantages by linking into private-sector initiatives. Indeed, the private and community sectors, working in unison, are the most appropriate entities for the development of new plantations. Unconventional schemes that incorporate rich and poor are likely to succeed if arrangements can be made for mutual gain. Synergy between large-, medium- and small-scale cultivators can, if the conditions are right, provide greater benefits to society, the environment and timber production than can segregated developments; (for more information see: How Communities can cash in on Teak at: http://www.itto.int/en/tfu/id=6660000 ).

TEAK 21 proposes a number of innovative approaches to entice the private sector to forge beneficial links with community growers. These approaches include:

  • Incorporation of small growers in certification systems:
    Under certain circumstances and within some certification schemes, private growers can incorporate out-growers so that they can become fully certified at reduced costs. A full exploration of possible methods whereby all types of growers will benefit is yet to be undertaken. In the meantime, TEAK 21 encourages certifying bodies to examine how enticements could be further developed to expand these schemes;
  • Development agency involvement in favour of community-private grower cooperation:
    TEAK 21 encourages international development banks and other financial institutions to offer preferential rates to commercial companies that assist local community and small-scale tropical hardwood growers in wealth creation. Development agencies are continually being encouraged to incorporate the private sector into development schemes but many agencies tend to feel out of their depth when dealing with commercial entities. The main problem arises for the agencies where the community sector is not involved. However, if the agenda changes in favour of cooperation between private and community sectors, thus allowing the aid agencies to participate fully, the impact will be substantial, particularly for communities. Fears on the part of some aid agencies of supporting multi-nationals that wield massive powers should be replaced with a reliance on the counterbalancing forces of certification programs that contain strong social and environmental dimensions. These could be extended in time to include a type of ‘financial certification’ for private growers that conform to high standards of propriety.
  • Knowledge on fair prices for community growers
    TEAK 21 encourages community representatives to maintain links with organisations that are providing transparency in pricing, like ITTO’s Marketing Information Service (see: http://www.itto.int/en/mis_detail/ ), in order to obtain up to date information on the prices of high-grade tropical hardwoods. TEAK 21 will post more information on this website about entities that are encouraging transparency and realism in pricing. See also: equitable prices and links;
  • Fair Trade enticements
    A further option to help small growers is for certifiers to provide commercial companies with a Fair Trade certification if they embrace community growers’ produce in their sales and marketing activities. This would enable commercial growers to access markets otherwise denied to them. In other words arrangements could be put in place to benefit commercial companies where they also assist communities to benefit;

This list of suggestions is a beginning and may be expanded. It is the view of TEAK 21 that by applying programmes of mutual benefit the communities will overcome or avoid many of their problems including the receiving of unjust prices, lack of strength in the market place, unfair schemes of unscrupulous middle-men, the lack of certification and non-consistency of supply. Commercial growers will enhance their own reputations, open their produce to new markets and eventually may find that out-growers can overcome some of their own limitations (e.g. land shortages) by incorporating them more fully into their corporate undertakings. This would also overcome problems with lack of management know-how. Aid agencies and NGOs will have the satisfaction that real progress in development will result.

(See also: http://www.fao.org/docrep/x3989e/x3989e07.htm#TopOfPage )

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