Synopsis: Can agricultural traders be trusted? Evidence from urban coffee markets in Ethiopia

Thomas Woldu Assefa, Bart Minten
essp ii research note
2015

Traditional food marketing systems in developing countries are often not trusted. In consequence, policy makers frequently try to regulate them and modern market arrangements increasingly are emerging that seek to address some of their presumed deficiencies. However, it is unclear how trustworthy these markets actually are, and if and to what extent regulation and modernization affects market governance. In this paper we look at the case of coffee in urban settings in Ethiopia to test trustworthiness along three dimensions of trade transactions – weight, quality, and the presence of illegal trade. We find that traders are relatively trustworthy on observable quality characteristics and weights. However, there is significant illegal trade (prohibited trade of export quality coffee) and a consistent pattern of over-representation of not easily observable quality characteristics. We find that modern marketing outlets or formats, including branded and packaged products, deliver higher quality at a higher price, but are no more trustworthy than traditional marketing arrangements in terms of these dimensions of trade transactions.