Connecting smallholder farmers to high-value markets: the perspective of marketing networks
Limited access to agribusiness marketing resources such as credit facilities, post-harvest services, and market information flow is a crucial challenge for smallholder farmers in a developing country (Chamberlin and Jayne, 2013). Although there are rising opportunities from export market, local supermarkets, and new processing firms, farmers are usually unable to take advantage of these value-chains because of the high cost of complying with these markets' quality and quantity requirements. Access limits farmers to lower-value food markets, which compel them to sell at relatively lower prices and settle for lower returns in the value-chain (Hao et al., 2018; Abdul-Rahaman and Abdulai, 2020). Our understanding of farmers' marketing issues has largely been influenced by collective marketing models and cooperative theories in agribusiness literature. In the past decade, policymakers and development agencies have also responded by investing in programmes that promote farmer groups and marketing cooperatives formation (Bigerri et al., 2018; Abdul-Rahaman and Abdulai, 2018). Despite the benefits of cooperatives, previous studies (e.g., Mojo et al., 2017; Bernard et al., 2010) have revealed contrasting findings on farmer groups' effectiveness in addressing farmers' marketing challenges.
Previous studies' contrasting results indicate that cooperative theory falls short in understanding the marketing issues confronting farmers. A shortcoming of cooperative research (such as Mojo et al., 2017) lies in focus on higher analysis levels such as the variations in overall group performance. As a result, lower levels of analysis such as the farmer's inter-personal networks that could have significant implications on access conditions have not received much attention in the literature.
To contribute a more profound understanding, I build on Alqahtani and Uslay's (2020) assertion to argue that research on farmers' marketing issues must move away from investigating cooperatives' characteristics to consider individual actors and their networks' attributes. Although recent agribusiness studies (e.g., Luo et al., 2019; Abdul-Rahaman and Abdulai, 2020) have identified a relationship between farmers' social networks and access to credit facilities and information, they fail to consider how different networks characteristics influence different access outcomes. Also, prior studies on farmer networks have adopted quantitative approaches, limiting their contributions to the structural dimensions of networks without considering the contents of farmers' interactions. The relevant question that arises from the gap in our understanding of farmer networks and access condition is: How do marketing networks contribute to smallholder farmers' access to high-value market?
From the context of agribusiness in Ghana, my study adopts an inductive approach and sequential exploratory mixed method design to demonstrate how individual network characteristics (such as network type, the system of marketing, farm business category) contribute as moderators of the network's effect on farmers' access to strategic resources. Delimiting the study to farmer networks related to marketing, I expect my investigation to bring network research to the interface of marketing and entrepreneurship, establish networking as a critical entrepreneurship marketing dimension for resource acquisition. I also seek to demonstrate entrepreneurial behavior (networking) in marketing practice.