Faustina Obeng Adomaa is a Ghanaian, and PhD candidate of the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group, Wageningen University, Netherlands. She is a critical geographer whose work is at the intersection of micro level agrarian changes and livelihoods and broad social relations and economic structures. She is particularly interested in the politics of global agriculture value/commodity chains and its ramifications on local livelihoods in terms of land, labour, food security, inequalities and gender. Faustina holds a Bachelor and Master of Philosophy degrees in Geography and Resource Development from University of Ghana specialising in agricultural commodity chains and production networks.
Reconfiguring the role of middlemen in commodity chains: Thinking beyond the dominant elimination narrative
Critical value/commodity chain discourse highlights how credit relations between middlemen/intermediaries and small producers leave producers poorer and engender their indebtedness. Calls to reduce producer poverty and indebtedness have resulted in movements to shorten value/commodity chains and eliminate middlemen. Dominant eliminatory narratives, however, focus on specific unfavourable activities of middlemen, and give less attention to broad company-middleman-producer relationship within which the practice of intermediation as a living entirety constructs a social relation between middlemen and producers. Focusing on unfavourable activities of middlemen simplifies their paradoxical role and shrouds critical nuances that can inform alternative perspectives. This paper constructs empirical manifestations of the paradoxical position of middlemen through the lens of cocoa purchasing clerks in Ghana who sit uneasily between producers and buying companies. The paper argues that these middlemen fill a vital gap in the chain and their relationship with producers is an intricate social relation with vulnerabilities and risks management. Middlemen absorb the hidden costs of companies’ operation, as well as fill the inevitable role of credit provision for many producers unable to earn living income from cocoa production. Middleman-producer credit relation is key to social reproduction of producers, but also engenders their persistent indebtedness. This credit/debt relation is a manifestation of the chain’s inability to reduce poverty among its smallholders and its unwillingness to integrate formal credit schemes in the chain. Solving persistent producer indebtedness, therefore, lies beyond simply eliminating middlemen. The paper sketches alternative outlooks on reconfiguring the role of middlemen in commodity chains for policy consideration.
Affiliation: Wageningen University, Netherlands