Farmer organisations have become the centrepiece of pro-poor market development strategies in Africa. Assumed to facilitate scale, quality of produce and professionalism they are regarded as a solution for farmers that are hampered from economic opportunities. In Mali public as well as private actors encourage farmers to trade through one specific organisational form, namely cooperatives. Nevertheless, in reality the landscape is much more diverse. A wide array of organisations can be observed and the models stimulated by external actors do not always succeed in improving the position of farmers. Considering the gap in knowledge, this dissertation poses the following question:
How and in what ways do people organise trading of cereals in South Mali?
The central aim of this thesis is to contribute to a better understanding of organisation of food trade in rural markets, by examining how and in what ways people in South Mali organise trade in cereals and sesame. Trading includes the procurement of cereals or sesame, organisation of finance, information gathering, bargaining, the organisation of transport and selling.
Organisation of trade has been studied from different angles. Studies taking a structural approach explain organisation as emerging from context. Studies that approach organisations from an instrumental perspective regard organisation as a means for efficiently solving a shared problem. Both strands provide insights for understanding organisational functioning and performance but leave open questions regarding how people organise to realise trading and why this results in organisational diversity. This thesis examines organising trade by adopting a practice-oriented approach, which has as entry point that organisation takes shape in the realization of everyday practice. Focus is on what people actually do to realise trading.
Two case study organisations are central to the study. Both are typical for how trade in rural Mali is organised. The first is a cooperative engaged in the trading of sesame in Miena, South-East Mali. The second is a cereal trading network in N’golobougou, in the centre of South Mali. Both provide an example of people collaborating and coordinating to perform trading and as such are excellent cases for tracing the formation of organisational traits that explain performance and diversity in trading cereals in South Mali.
Chapter 2 presents a historical overview of how the organisation of trade of cereals and cotton at farmer level developed in Mali on extensive literature research. It focuses on the efforts of the Malian state to organise rural society, how producers responded, and how the interaction between the two shaped organisation. The analysis starts in the 18th century, in which cotton and cereal trade was intertwined and likewise organised. From the colonial period onwards, organisation dynamics in food and export crops evolved distinctly. For both sectors the most important events and changes are detailed. The chapter found that the political economy at stake influences the set of organisational options people can choose from and that imposed models rarely get adopted in practice.
Chapter 3 traces the emergence and development of the sesame cooperative in Miena. It builds on two strands of literature that emphasize the specific socio-historical context of an organisation. The first body highlights the resilience of existing relations and institutions by showing how these get reproduced in new organisations. The second body of literature claims that individuals involved in collective action have the capacity to influence which institutions get reproduced and which new ones get adopted, also called ‘blended’. To collect the data 35 in depth interviews with cooperative members, (ex) officials from the cotton company CMDT, local officers and NGO-workers active in the research location were collected over a period of three months. Time was spent at the weekly market, in village meetings and at peoples’ homes. Moreover 20 informal talks with villagers and traders on the market were afterwards noted down. Three distinct processes - the historical organisation of cotton farmers, the interaction between state and society and the local trade practices - are found to underlie the current functioning of the cooperative. This chapter shows how both the reproduction and blending happen purposively; in order to (continue) performance in trading.
Chapter 4 addresses the question: How do traders in Mali perform collectively? Following the methodological orientation, labelled as technography, the chapter zooms in on the use of skills and know-how by a group of people coordinating the collection and trade of cereals. Data were collected through 24 in-depth interviews with traders and 37 semi-structured interviews with pisteurs and interviews with key resource persons. Moreover, trade practices were observed during 10 market days in a row. The analysis shows that the success of the traders’ network can be explained by: (i) the use of skills and know-how for adapting to changing economic, social and environmental contexts; (ii) the network’s ability to select capable people and distribute the many trading tasks; and (iii) the network’s effective governance, based on a strict code of conduct specific to each role. The chapter shows how rules steering the distribution of tasks and collaboration in the traders’ network emerge out of the daily practice of trading.
Chapter 5 uses evidence from a network of cereal traders in the market of N’golobougou to examine how the characteristics of traders, their positions within different networks, and different kinds of relationships between traders influence performance in trading. 26 traders were extensively interviewed on the history, functioning and the size of their business. Semi-structured interviews focused on their relations in trading. A social network analysis (SNA) is applied to describe the positions of individual traders in the networks and the type of relations that link them. Qualitative analysis is used to understand the motivations underlying their position and collaboration. The findings demonstrate that trading is a complex and multifaceted activity. Within the network distinct networks have emerged to organise the collection of cereals, to arrange finance and to acquire information. Pre-existing social relations facilitate trading but do not guarantee individual success. Proven ability and reputation are equally important in cooperation and relate to the way powerful members of the network acquire a central position, which goes stepwise and takes time.
Collaboration is crucial for trading under the circumstances of rural Mali. Both case studies highlight the role of key individuals who spotted opportunities and mobilised others to collaborate. Different trading activities require specific skills, know-how and tools and people tend to specialise. Most skills are acquired in practice; few of them can be taught by instruction. Accordingly to what is present in terms of capacities, people’s availability and know-how, and tools, groups will distribute tasks among their members.
People also need to coordinate how skills, know-how and tools are distributed over time and space. Trading in South Mali requires bridging of long distances, adaptation to seasonality, securing finance and transport, and finding buyers. The temporal dimension of trading is visible in how traders adapt to seasonality and to how it is adjusted to people’s availability in time. Trading is also spatially situated. Poor infrastructure and long travel distances are characteristic of rural South Mali. Both the cooperative as well as the trading network therefore have a layered structure of actors close to the field, actors in the central village or market where the sesame or cereals are collected, and actors in the city to which the sesame or cereals are transported.
People do not organise in a random constellation. The range of options they can choose from are importantly influenced by the institutions active in decision-making at village level, the relationship between state and rural communities, the social networks people operate in, and the historically developed rules and regulations in market transactions. Also, previous ways of organising play a role in today’s way of organising. The empirical analyses demonstrate that organising trade is ‘path dependent’. Nevertheless, people only reproduce those procedures, habits and actions that are deemed necessary to perform. They blend old and new ways of coordination and collaboration to allow the practice of trade to continue.
The findings in this thesis show that collaboration does not rely on social relations only. Cooperating to achieve a practical end, i.e. to trade, is also skill and competence based. Organisational sustainability depends on how grouped or networked actors coordinate actions in response to changing circumstances and opportunities. Hence, organisational diversity can be understood from the fact that organisation emerges from a situated practice.
Organisation in trade emerges gradually and adaptively from what is present in terms of skills, capacities, know-how and experience in trading. As this is situation specific it is essential to recognize the uniqueness of each organisational form and suggests reconsidering the one-size-fit-all approaches often promoted in development interventions. Imposed organisational structures may be enabling to some extent but they leave little room for exploring the range of possible ways to achieve trading. For understanding how people organise trade it is important to understand the way they perform the actual practice in the specific social and material circumstances. The empirical chapters argue in favour of tutor–apprentice relations between experienced actors and new members, leaving decision-making power and rule setting in the hands of the most experienced traders. Current development projects supporting links between farmers and buyers often aim to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘pro-poor’, meaning that they should be accessible to anyone. The field research shows that organisations in trade in Mali are very selective in membership to assure the group achieves its objectives. Governments and other development actors should be aware of the trade-offs between inclusive, democratic organisational models, and effectiveness and performance in trading.
|Qualification||Doctor of Philosophy|
|Award date||9 Sep 2015|
|Place of Publication||Wageningen|
|Publication status||Published - 2015|
- food cooperatives
- rural areas
- agricultural trade
- west africa