Boosting access to markets in Paraguay: A rendezvous with saleswomen

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Fair in Capiibary, San Pedro Department. Farrah Frick / World Bank

The producers of Capiibary, a small town in the San Pedro Department, will never forget Friday, May 4th, 2018, when Mario Abdo Benítez, the elected President of Paraguay, visited their fair during his first field trip after winning the elections.
“Marito”, as he is known in this South American country, decided to see with his own eyes how the smallholder producers, in particular the women, were getting their products to market. All of them are beneficiaries of the Bank-funded Sustainable Rural Development Project PRODERS.
Selling locally grown products directly to customers is nothing new in Paraguay. At least since the ‘90s, there have been producers’ fairs. The difference is the expanded scale attained over the past several years. Thanks to the support provided by the project there has been a boom. Preliminary estimates indicate that the hundreds of small fairs supported by PRODERS generate an aggregated business volume of over US$ 10 million per year.
The inflection point for PRODERS was in 2013, when the project shifted its orientation towards a market approach as a way of improving socioeconomic conditions. Previously the project had focused on natural resource management and production for food self-sufficiency.
PRODERS seeks to improve the prospects of Paraguay´s smallholder producers and indigenous peoples through community organization, on-farm investments, and technical assistance. To encourage the sale of surplus goods most of community plans started including market analysis and concrete investments in things such as training in commercialization and the acquisition of tents for the fairs.
Promoting fairs was a kind of low-hanging fruit for PRODERS. The fairs started to flourish and gained momentum rapidly because the producers responded receptively to the stimuli provided by the project.
Through extensive conversations with beneficiaries at the grassroot level I have learned that the women particularly became excited about this new approach and proved to be talented sellers of eggs, cheese, vegetables, and fruits. It seems that they generate most trust with customers, most of whom are also women.
The absence of middle-men made the business more appealing and the weekly earnings became an essential source of family income. And this is very good news! Intensive literature suggests that when the earnings are in the hands of women, the benefits are essentially used to improve the status of the children with regard to education and nutrition.
The economic dynamic also sparked self- initiative among the beneficiaries. A few weeks ago, in the Nueva Londres district, a beneficiary on a women’s committee showed me how she received orders via Whatsapp, so when she arrived at the fair most of her products had already been “booked”. Imagine the feeling of confidence, having secured earnings even before arriving at the fair.
The goal: To reach Asuncion and beyond

The fairs have been a boon to the smallholder farmers. PRODERS has allowed them to seize an opportunity. But for family farmers to reach more dynamic markets there is a long road ahead.

The lesson learned is that the PRODERS approach can help smallholder producers reach a certain point: producing better, diversifying products, and channeling surplus goods through informal markets.
To take family farming to the next level, however, PRODERS approach reveals certain difficulties and limitations and further actions are critical, such as formalizing businesses, producing and storing larger volumes, supplying products on a regular basis, organizing value chains, facilitating access to capital, and producing under certification schemes.

Producers of Capiibary. Farrah Frick/Banco Mundial
Fair in Capiibary, San Pedro Department. Farrah Frick / World Bank

What’s next to boost access to markets?
The visit of Marito was a strong show of support for family agriculture and provided well-deserved recognition for the project, which is now in its final stages. In a country like Paraguay, where the agri-food sectors are essential engines of the economy, family farmers have a significant role to play: they are important actors who benefit society.
Finding ways to promote access to markets is a critical ingredient to help smallholder producers become self-reliant in economic terms and acquire the capacity to re-invest and grow. There is a wealth of evidence emerging from Bank-funded projects that indicate that access to markets can have significant impacts on poverty reduction. Future public policies in Paraguay should learn from the PRODERS legacy and go beyond, trying to tap into the potential of better markets for the poor. 


Francisco Obreque

Senior Rural Development Specialist

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