Congo-Brazzaville: New policy of selling by weight pits farmers against traders and consumers (by John Ndinga-Ngoma for Farm Radio Weekly in Congo – Brazzaville)

| April 16, 2012

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Many market traders still sell by the heap, the cup or the bowl. However, in Pointe-Noire, in southern Congo-Brazzaville, agricultural products are now bought and sold by the kilogram.

Rachel Matouadi farms in Pointe-Noire. She says that, when selling products by the kilo, she earns more than when they are sold by the heap. A bowl of fresh tomatoes usually sells for 12,000 CFA francs (about US$24). But as Ms. Matouadi says, “A bowl can hold more than 26 kilos. So, at a rate of 800 CFA francs per kilo, I should charge at least 21,600 CFA francs. That’s why I prefer to sell by weight rather than by heap.”

Last August, at Pointe-Noire’s 26th International Fair, the Ministry of Trade and Supply introduced the use of the weigh scale to the marketing of agricultural products. The policy aimed to ensure a fair deal for consumers, producers, buyers and sellers. It was well-received by farmers in Pointe-Noire, the economic capital of Congo.

Marie Andree Ngouamba is also a farmer. She believes that scales are an effective tool for managing and selling her products: “When I sell by the bowl, I make a loss. I cannot even recover the capital I invested. When I use the scale, I can already foresee that I will win. And I can plan my budget.” She attended a seminar to learn how to sell by the kilo and plan her marketing activities.

Despite the advantages for farmers, traders in Pointe-Noire are not keen on the new system. Dominique Wamono is a market gardener. She struggles to sell her produce to traders by weight. She says, “They [traders] do not like the scale. And they threaten to buy from other farmers. Right now, you are obliged to yield to their desire to sell by bowl, as we cannot keep products which will eventually perish.”

The traders feel their stance is justified. Adele Ndoulou is a vendor at a small neighbourhood market . She says, “When I tried to sell by the kilo, customers started to turn their backs, because they associate this new practice with price increases. That’s why I quickly returned to selling by the heap.”

This argument rings true with consumers. Prisca Mankou is a teacher and housekeeper. She says, “Assume you have 2000 CFA francs. If you have to buy a kilo of tomatoes for 1000 CFA … and a kilo of eggplants at the same price, what remains in the wallet? Nothing! This means that governments have only made the rising cost of living worse.” She says that even buying a half kilo does not solve the issue.

For many farmers, the establishment of the selling-by-weight scheme should act as a buffer against the low selling prices of agricultural products. But for production to increase, farmers need support. John Gilbert Kaya is president of The Green Hand, an association of growers. He says, “Selling by the kilo allows us farmers to achieve acceptable profits. But the consumer needs to know that, by buying per kilo, they gain more than they lose when buying by bowl.” He believes that selling by the kilo is the right solution, as it reduces price fluctuations.

Selling by kilo is not a law; it is only a policy. The government’s aim was for producers, traders, and consumers to be satisfied with food prices. It wanted to reduce speculation in the marketing of agricultural products, so that nobody would feel cheated. But the range of opinions from farmers, traders and consumers show that such a complicated issue cannot be solved by a weigh scale alone. The consequences and implications of what seemed like a simple intervention are many and varied.

Rachel Matouadi adds, “For just one person to benefit is not always good. Prices should suit farmers, traders and consumers. That is what we call green prices.”