Appropriate institutional and contractual arrangements for the marketing of organic crops produced by members of the Ezemvelo Farmers' Organisation in KwaZulu-Natal.
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The Ezemvelo Farmers’ Organisation (EFO) is a certified organic smallholder group in KwaZulu-Natal province (South Africa) that exists as an institution to improve smallholder access to niche markets by reducing unit production and transaction costs. The study is motivated by the need to understand drivers of collective action, prevalence of internal group free-riding, and the impact of contract terms on contract performance. These three theoretical concepts are pertinent in understanding organisational and institutional issues affecting the performance of smallholder organic farming groups and in formulating policies to promote the performance of such groups. The study relies on the theoretical foundations of collective action, free-riding and contracts found within the realm of New Institutional Economics (NIE). These theories, though separate, are in fact related in certain respects. Collective action in smallholder groups, apart from being a function of a plethora of socio-economic factors, including transaction costs, could be constrained by free-riding within the group, which in turn could be influenced by flawed contractual arrangements. This study of collective action focuses on 200 farmers drawn from a sample survey of 49 non-EFO members, and a census survey of 103 partially certified and 48 fully certified EFO members. A ‘collective action’ model investigates the impact of perceived benefits and savings on production and transaction costs attributed to collective action by drawing comparisons between EFO members and non-members using a multinomial logit model. The study of free-riding uses data from 151 members of the EFO to construct an index of free-riding within the group using principal components analysis (PCA). A ‘contract model’, which also focuses on EFO members only, attempts to measure the impact of verbal contract provisions on contract performance in addition to evaluating the determinants of preferred contract terms using a combination of PCA, Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression, and logit models. Results indicate that continued participation in EFO is not influenced by the age or gender of the farmer, but positively influenced by growth in the net benefits of participation, and negatively by an increase in the size of the household’s cropland or on-farm earnings. With respect to production and transaction costs, the results suggest that EFO has reduced fully certified members’ concerns that crops would be damaged by livestock or constrained by inadequate technical information. However, this is not the case for other problems such as price uncertainty in conventional markets, a lack of affordable operating inputs, a lack of affordable transport, and a lack of communications infrastructure. The index of free-riding behaviour constructed using principal components analysis suggests that free-riding poses a serious threat to EFO’s collective marketing efforts. Ordinary Least Squares regression analysis of the index scores shows that members who are male, poorly educated, partially certified, aware of loopholes in the grading system, and who do not trust the buyer are more likely to free-ride. Benefits accruing to EFO members are limited and there is substantial confusion among members about the terms of EFO’s verbal contract with the pack house that purchases their organic produce. Ordinary Least Squares regression analysis of the impact that perceived contractual terms have on quantities delivered to the pack house yielded interesting findings. Perceptions that delivery calls are made by the buyer, that grading procedures are flawed and that prices are not jointly established were found to reduce quantities delivered to the pack house, after controlling for differences in farm and farmer characteristics. Logit models estimated to identify the determinants of preferred contract clauses indicate that farmers with higher levels of formal education and farm income, and lower levels of experience, favour a written contract over a verbal contract. Similarly, farmers with higher levels of formal education and lower levels of family farm labour favour a contract denominated by area rather than weight. It is concluded that EFO should recruit households that rely on farming for income and which are land constrained. EFO is more likely to survive if it continues to secure fully subsidised information, transport, fencing, and certification services for its members, and if it improves the benefits of participating by synchronising harvest and delivery dates, negotiating price discounts for organic inputs, and by maintaining an office with telephone, fax and postal services. In the longer-term, EFO should address institutionalised free-riding by issuing tradable ownership rights. In the short-term, EFO must engage with the pack house (buyer) to remove flaws in the grading process that conceal the origin of low quality produce. Transparent and mediated negotiations leading to an incentive compliant contract with the buyer may also help to build trust and reduce free-riding within EFO. It is also recommended that the terms of EFO’s contract with the pack house should be revised so that; (a) delivery calls can be made by either the pack house or by EFO during specified periods and with reasonable notice, and (b) grading procedures are fully transparent and ensure traceability so that losses caused by poor quality can be internalised to members who deliver inferior produce. In addition, it is important that prices be negotiated at the beginning of each season and that the contractual parties have recourse to pre-agreed facilitators and an arbitrator to resolve disputes on price and quality. A written contract is recommended to support these more complex terms, with the proviso that the contract is explained to current and prospective members, and that growers are fully informed of their rights and obligations.
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