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The information used in Step I to select the site and identify the participants for the MIS is unlikely to be complete enough to permit detailed planning of MIS activities. The second step is devoted to gathering information that will be used to design the goals, overall structure and specific activities of the system.

During the assessment step, it is important to remember that the MIS will be most effective if it builds on the indigenous marketing and communication strategies already in place. The assessment should focus on what is already being done and has been accomplished, even if local activities appear somewhat haphazard or informal to the outside observer. In the assessment, the facilitator will work with local counterparts to try to understand the local experience with marketing, forestry and agricultural production. What goods do people sell? Where do they sell them? How do they decide when to sell, how much to sell and what price to sell for? How are people organized and how do they share information? The chances of success will be greater if the facilitator shows respect for local strategies and systems already in place and looks for ways the MIS can build on and complement what people are already doing.

The breadth of information to be collected at this stage will vary depending on the site. In some cases, local people may have a specific problem in mind such as how to market excess honey that is available during a certain season. If the facilitator is fairly confident (from background information s/he has from various sources) that this is a good place to start, it may make sense to focus information gathering around this topic. More often, however, the task is more openended. In these cases, part of the purpose of the assessment is to gather information that will enable the local people and the facilitator to narrow the focus of their MIS activities and choose products that will benefit the most from more marketing information. Information would then be gathered on the range of NTFPs available or produced locally.


In order to set up an MIS (Step III), several different types of information are needed:

This field manual covers each of these subjects, notes how the information will be used in the design of the MIS and describes activities that can be used to gather the information. The fact that there is considerable overlap should not cause concern. The categories are not strict; they should be used to help structure the information and to ensure that no major topics are overlooked.


Information on the local forest and tree product economy is needed to:

This part of the study focuses on goods that are currently being produced in the area. It looks at how the goods are produced, their uses and the way each product is marketed. The resulting analysis should provide a good overview of the structure and sustainability of the local forest product economy. This information is critical in choosing which products can most benefit from being included in an MIS.

At this stage, it is often useful to ask participants to draw a picture that shows what they know of the production and sale chain for each good produced in the community (Figure 2). This permits systematic examination of each good and each step in the chain. These diagrams can also be used to generate discussion about the other topics that will be covered in the needs assessment (such as marketing knowledge).

Figure 2: Hand-drawn production & marketing chain for cashew From the producers' perspective, Alion, Philippines (October 1993)






Which forest and tree products are harvested/produced in the area?

How are the products processed?

Which products are sold?

What problems are currently faced in the commercialization of NTFPs (e.g. inadequate infrastructure, administrative and legal barriers, lack of credit)?

How are these products produced?

Where are they processed?

Where are the products sold?

Which of these problems is the most serious?

When are they produced (seasonality)?

Who processes the products?

When are they sold?

How are local people trying to solve these problems?

Who makes decisions on financial and labour investments in the production of tree products?


Who buys the products?


Who collects, plants, harvests and tends the various forest and tree products?

How are products transported to the selling point?

Who uses these products?

What price do the products bring? Does it vary?

What are the products used for?

What do local people know about what happens to the goods after they are sold?


Which products are not sold?

Why are the products not sold?

What is the potential to develop markets for these products?


Information about marketing knowledge and interest focuses on the potential participants, their needs and their ability to make use of data gathered in the MIS. This information will be used to:

When gathering information about marketing knowledge and interest, it is important to look at different segments of the community since their access to information and other resources is likely to vary. Women may have different needs and sources of information than men; large producers are different from small ones, etc. This information helps focus MIS activities on the groups most interested in participating and that will benefit most from the activities.

The diagrams describing the production and sale chain for each local product can be used to promote discussion of marketing knowledge as well. It may be useful to discuss these diagrams with several groups to determine what knowledge they have about the various issues and to pinpoint where information is lacking.

While discussing the marketing information that people already use, remember that information may be received from both informal (e.g. border guards, traders, neighbours) and formal (e.g. radio, television, newspapers) sources. Information should be gathered about all information sources.


What information do people gather related to the sale of forest and tree products?

How do people decide to whom, where and when to sell different products?

What additional marketing information do people think they need?

Where do people currently get information?

Who makes the decisions?

What products are most lacking in marketing information?

Who collects the information?

Whom do they consult in making these decisions?

Who is interested in participating in an MIS?

When is the information gathered?


What ideas do people have on changing their approach to marketing?

How do people use the information?


Is the information accurate, complete, timely and consistent?



The information about local organizational capacity obtained in Step I allowed the community and facilitator to begin to discuss the operation of the MIS. Now more in-depth information will be gathered with the local community about how business activities are organized. This information will be used to:

An MIS can be oriented toward the needs of small homogeneous groups or to larger groups with more diverse interests. It can service individual producers who have a loose affiliation as well as highly formal associations. In order to design the most effective MIS, it is essential that the participants and the facilitator have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their group.

Wherever possible MIS activities should use existing networks and channels of communication rather than create parallel structures purely to carry out the MIS. This increases the chance that the system will be sustainable, especially after the departure of the facilitator. However, it is also true that in some cases, where there is strong interest among producers who have little or no affiliation, the MIS can help to identify where local people might benefit from more structured organization and facilitate team work.

Information about local organizations can be gathered from members of the community as well as from outsiders such as local forestry or agricultural agents who know the community well. Formal and informal information sources should be accessed. For the purposes of the MIS initial assessment, women who gather each morning at the well and frequently discuss the price of karité nuts in various local markets might be considered a type of organization even though they would not necessarily define themselves as a "group" or "association." Where NTFPs are concerned, it is often more common to find this type of informal networking than to find formal, well-established groups. (The latter are more common for major agricultural products that have received years of attention from extension agents and government officials. ) It is important to identify these informal networks (as well as any more classic, structured types of associations) since they may serve as the foundation for more formal structures and activities that are developed as the MIS is put in place.


Are there formal organizations, groups, committees (e.g. farmers associations, women's groups, church groups) in the community?

Do local people collectively produce, harvest, sell or transport products in the area?

Do local people share and discuss information on products, prices and markets?

Who is associated with these organizations?

What products?

Which products?

What do these organizations do?

Who is involved?

How do they get the information?

Are they involved in any business activities (including credit?

How are they organized in the collective activity?

How is the information passed along?

Do any of their activities involve NTFPs?

Who are the leaders in these activities?


Do any of these organizations conduct training activities?


The assessment should not restrict itself to groups organized around forest product activities since there may be none. If there are other functional groups in the community, these should be studied in order to understand what makes them work well. In some cases, these groups may be interested in expanding their activities to include an MIS; in others they may be able to shed light on the best way to structure a group so that it fits into the social system of that particular community.


The last category of information is concerned with markets and price availability in the area. This involves collecting "information about information. " Once the MIS gets under way, it will require the collection of specific information about prices and demand for NTFPs in area markets. In this initial assessment, it is not necessary to find out actual prices, but rather to determine whether such information is even available, where it is available and whether it can be considered reliable. This "information about information" will be used to:

When an MIS is first put in place, it is generally best to start with a product about which information is readily available. For example, people may be willing to talk without hesitation about prices of widely-sold products, such as mats.

It may be more difficult to get information about a product such as game meat, because trade is not on the open market, or because it is illegal and people are unwilling to discuss marketing with strangers they do not trust. In such a case, the MIS might initially focus on the mats and other similar products. It could expand later to encompass the more sensitive and complicated products, once the participants have gained familiarity and experience with the system.

To gather this kind of information, it is necessary to create an inventory of different data sources for the various NTFPs in the community. This would include, for example, the names of markets where each good is sold, other ways that the good is traded and any other information sources such as radio broadcasts or people passing through the community. Local people will be able to suggest markets and trading points that they use. Forest service officials or development project employees in the area may be able to add other sources of information not known by local people. Once this inventory is complete, the MIS participants and facilitator can visit or talk to a sample of the places/people on list and ask a few questions about price and demand. This should begin to give an idea of how easy it is to get that sort of data. By cross-checking with a couple of different sources, it should be possible to assess whether the answers are reasonably reliable.


What are sources of information on prices and demand for forest and tree products? (See Appendix 1 for list of potential information sources.)

What kind of information do the various sources have? (See box on p.15 for a list of the types of information that might be useful.)

How far are these sources located from the MIS site?

How frequently do these sources receive new information?

Who can obtain access to the information?

How accurate and complete is the information?

When can the information be obtained?


How willing are people to talk about prices and preferences?


Is any information disseminated via mass media (e.g. newsletters, radio broadcasts)?



The assessment step should not be long and drawn out. Long delays in starting the activities of the MIS risk causing local interest to fade. It will not be possible to have information about every aspect of the local situation right at the beginning. What is important is to ensure that when new and relevant information is collected at a later point, it is integrated into the ongoing planning process. Any MIS will have to be adapted and refined as it progresses and new information is taken into consideration.

In most situations, the information needed at this stage can be gathered in about three to five days. The same technique can often be used to gather information on several different subjects. A skilful facilitator can use a discussion about the marketing of forest products to gather information about marketing knowledge and interest, possible sources of market information and community organization as well as other topics of interest.

There are many techniques that may be used to collect information on the subjects outlined in this section. The participants and facilitator should choose the technique that they feel most comfortable with and that they think would be most effective in a given situation. Some may prefer to conduct a series of focus group discussions and individual interviews with different members of the community. Others may prefer using a more diverse range of tools to gather information such as those offered by Rapid Rural Appraisal. Appendix 2 lists some resources that describe various techniques for information collection (discussion, community observation, survey, rapid appraisal and library or book-based research) that may be useful.

The participatory and visual aspects of Rapid and Participatory Rural Appraisal methods make them particularly well suited to gathering the kind of information needed in an MIS assessment. Many of the tools used in RRA, such as mapping, matrices and Venn diagrams, could be adapted to the needs of an MIS assessment. These tools are discussed briefly in Appendix 3.

Local people should be integrally involved in the process of gathering information and be very clear about what kind of information is being collected and why. They will be much more forthcoming in providing information themselves if the purpose of the exercise is clear from the start and will be able to guide the facilitator to other information sources if they are knowledgeable about the goals of the assessment.

In order to get good, complete information from any method, it is essential to plan the approach with care and to use the tools thoughtfully. Random, scattered questions will rarely result in coherent information. Before any interview or activity (whether in a group or individually), the MIS participants and facilitator should prepare a guide of question topics that will be covered in the discussion. This guide should be used flexibly (i.e. it does not have to be followed in order and interesting comments not related to the guide list should be pursued as they arise), but it will help ensure that all the major points are discussed. Careful notes should be kept to ensure that information is not lost or forgotten.

Throughout the assessment, an effort should be made to gather information with and from people who represent different social categories (e.g. men and women, wealthier and poorer, landed and landless, older and younger) and who occupy different niches within the production chain (e.g. producers, dealers, buyers, transporters). This

will serve to cross-check information and to make it more complete. It will also identify potential conflicts between different interest groups that may have to be addressed in the MIS implementation. The earlier this kind of information can be gathered, the less likely the project will be faced with unpleasant surprises in the implementation process.


The Philippine participants and facilitator used community observation, field visits, semi-structured interviews and community meetings in their needs assessments prior to designing the MISS. Each assessment took five days in the field. Before going to the sites, they drew up a list of open-ended questions for each subject. They centered almost all of their discussions around the production of NTFPs in the area since this was the easiest way to get started. Information on the other three subject areas seemed to flow naturally from there.

One of the first activities was visiting the farms of several producers. This made it easier to discuss the production and marketing of the various items being grown. When they learned that a number of farmers had made the costly decision to change their crop mix because they did not see any market for coffee, they followed up by exploring the barriers to sales. When they had investigated a range of issues on-site with farmers, they went on to discussions with key informants involved in other aspects of the market for NTFPs. These included traders and women who actually sold the goods in local markets.

Following these individual interviews, the participants and facilitator got together with the community to discuss the preliminary findings of the needs assessment, Men and women came together from different groups in the community. They began by reviewing the list of market barriers that had been identified in the assessment. These included their lack of information about how the market worked, high costs that limited market access and the shortage of transportation alternatives. This led directly to discussions of alternative strategies that might reduce the barriers. At this point, they were ready to enter the design step of their MIS.


Information about local needs was gathered in Uganda during discussions held over the course of three days (per site. The facilitator made an appointment to ensure that a representative group of potential users could attend. A list of questions was compiled in advance.

At the first meeting, discussion centered on products (baskets, trays, mats, stools and a participant kept a list on a blackboard the facilitator had brought. The group discussed the products in terms of which sold the most, which sold least and consumer preferences of product size, shape, colour and weight. Based on this discussion, they ranked the importance of the products.

The second day, the facilitator chose a highly- ranked product to begin discussions on the production and sales chain. This included: the source and cost of raw materials, pricing (how prices are set and how they might change overtime) and characteristics buyers look for in the product. The same issues were discussed on other products, including both non-timber forest products grown on the farms and those made from raw materials gathered in the forest.

For the last meeting, the group used charts and graphs created during the first two meetings to discuss information sources for products and markets. Were there untapped information sources? Did they record sales information? How did they find sources of raw materials or determine possible new products to sell?

Through the three discussions, the group covered all information gathering needs. The facilitator asked the participants to prepare a list ranking the ways they wanted to improve their business (e.g. increase profits per item, increase markets, increase sales volume). Based on that information, they would be prepared to choose the objectives of their MIS.

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