With many of Africa’s economies amongst the fastest growing in the world, middle class urban consumers are increasingly changing the face of the food market in Africa. This evolving, more sophisticated market brings with it new challenges and opportunities.
While urban consumers are increasingly aware of the health benefits to be had from fresh farm produce, heavy city traffic and the pressures of modern lifestyles leave little time for visiting fresh fruit and vegetable markets. This, at least, is the situation in Nigeria’s urban areas perceived by Afioluwa Mogaji popularly known as Africanfarmer, and is one of the reasons behind his ‘Green Collar Jobs’ project. Established in five Nigerian cities in 2012, the approach is an innovative and exciting model for agricultural marketing, which is simultaneously creating opportunities for young entrepreneurs and farmers, and bringing high quality, fresh vegetables direct to urban consumers.
Development of the direct marketing model has been driven by Mogaji’s work to bring young people into profitable agriculture, through training, provision of inputs, and negotiating access to disused government farmland – work for which the entrepreneur, chief executive of X-Ray Farms Consulting, has been recognised as a Fellow of Ashoka, the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide. Around 175 young farmers have, with Mogaji’s support, established modern farming enterprises to grow maize, watermelons, off-season tomatoes, sweet peppers and leafy vegetables. Their produce is then sold to urban consumers by another team of young entrepreneurs who organise ‘mobile markets’ and direct sales.
The green collar entrepreneurs identify customers through their own networks, including professionals working in corporate organisations and church members or other social groups. With direct sales, they arrange for the farm produce to be delivered to the home, office, church or any other location the buyer chooses. For the mobile markets, rented canopies are erected and tables set up for a few hours, typically in wealthier neighbourhoods. Some of the produce is sold by the kilo, with others sold in more traditional quantities used in open markets. When sold, the profit is shared between Mogaji’s firm, the entrepreneur and the farmer – an amount that farmers know will be a decent income compared to alternative marketing systems.
Making the most of marketing media
Mogaji is frequently invited to speak about agribusiness on TV and radio, and seizes the opportunity to create awareness of the green collar scheme. However, most of the marketing is done by the entrepreneurs, who use whatever publicity channels are available to inform people in their networks. These include direct marketing phone calls, text messaging, emails, Whats App, BB messenger, Facebook and Twitter, and announcements at social and religious gatherings.
Working directly with 12 entrepreneurs and indirectly with about 20 in sales of the farm produce, Mogaji gives training to them and other potential green collar entrepreneurs on a regular basis. “They are mostly men,” he says, “but we are now going to be focusing more on women. Young men are often restless and keep looking for greener pastures when we have challenges. But the women are more focused and calm as their green collar businesses grow.”
Care in handling and transport are important selling points when it comes to the success of the marketing approach. “Fresh vegetables sold in the open markets are often in a dismal state because of the careless ways they are handled by some transporters,” says Mogaji. “Even when they get to the open markets in a good state, the foodstuffs may be washed with dirty water, and they are displayed in such a way that flies and dust settle on them.” In contrast, the green collar system tries to make regular use of the same transporters, who are made aware that careless handling is not acceptable. In addition, the produce only tends to be displayed for a short time, as potential buyers are informed in advance of specific ‘opening hours’ for the mobile markets, which are deliberately sited very close to the homes or offices of urban consumers.
In explaining why selling directly to urban consumers is so successful, Mogaji highlights a number of practical advantages. Apart from pressures on time and the problem of reaching open markets in heavy traffic, people are also put off by a shortage of car parking spaces near markets and the potential for harassment from market touts. And, while supermarkets are more convenient and safe than open markets, only a few of the larger, more modern ones stock fresh farm produce such as tomatoes, sweet peppers and leafy vegetables.
In contrast, the green collar model offers consumers the convenience of having produce supplied directly or sold close to their residence or office, saving time and expense and providing them with the opportunity to give feedback. There are also financial benefits: with the number of people in the marketing chain reduced, prices are generally about 10-20% less under this model than in open markets. Mogaji’s direct marketing seems to have created a win-win model for farmers, young entrepreneurs and Nigeria’s urban consumers.