Geneva, 27 April 2007 - Prices paid to cocoa farmers in Cameroon -- the world´s 5th largest producer of cocoa -- vary as much as 50% between Yokadouma (800 kilometers from the port of Douala) and Mbanga (60 kilometres from the port). Farmers receive anywhere from 25% to as little as 8% of the average international price per kilogram of cocoa.
Such differences in payment for the same agricultural product reflect the way rural farmers in developing countries are often at a disadvantage when it comes to price negotiations. Buyers are apt to be sophisticated, internationally based, and well-informed, while smallholder farmers have much less information, little influence over large corporations, and -- because they must pay fees for school, medications, agricultural inputs and other costs -- an urgent need to sell while their crops are viable. Often they simply accept whatever price is offered.
Until the 1990s, many developing countries had agricultural marketing boards that represented farmers, set minimum prices, and provided various services, such as storage facilities, transport, credit campaigns, information, inputs, and quality control. But under the trade reforms of the last decade, in which the Bretton Woods financial institutions urged governments to disengage from the private sector and let the free markets work, many governments ended these services. Private-sector substitutes generally did not emerge, and the result has been an "asymmetry of information" between buyers over growers.
UNCTAD´s INFOSHARE project is a recently launched database for collecting and sharing information on commodity prices throughout the market chain -- from farm gate to export and import prices, including intermediary costs such as storage and transportation. The final version INFOSHARE was introduced in Cameroon in November 2006 and will soon be disseminated to other interested countries. By consulting this web-based system, farmers can decide if buyers´ offers are fair.
UNCTAD´s INFOCOMM programme, launched in 2001, provides analyses on international commodities markets for policy makers in developing countries, for universities, for financial institutions and for the general public. INFOCOMM is a multilingual electronic portal organized under ten headings ranging from product characteristics and crop value to export markets and prices; it aims to provide accessible, reliable, and updated commodity market information. It also includes links to major product organizations, international research groups, and universities. In addition, monthly newsletters from authoritative sources on commodity information are available to INFOCOMM users. INFOCOMM is currently consulted by 12 to 15 million people worldwide, 60% of them in developing countries.