This project was built on the results of an earlier Western SARE project outlining how a reservation would process and sell traditional Navajo corn products. One of the main goals is to provide Navajo people with corn products that are culturally appropriate and nationally superior to much of the food currently available and consumed on the reservation. Farmers are now interested in pursuing these specialty products as a way to sustain the economic viability of their small farms.
To further develop the traditional Navajo product line, this project surveyed the Navajo population and others to estimate market demand. Results from the estimated demand were used to measure the size of production effort that may be supported by the market.
Results of the study suggest that among Navajo people, the traditional corn foods market could represent an industry of over $100 million annually. Preliminary estimates suggest that this also translates into 3-4,000 jobs for food producers and the cultivation of approximately 10,000 acres of farmland.
Under this grant, a workshop was held to discuss the development of a community kitchen in Ganado. A draft action plan for this project was written and is still awaiting comments from various community members including the health clinic, farm board, high school 4-H and home economics departments and local food producers.
1) Estimate reservation-wide demand for traditional products through a survey.
2) Estimate tourist and off-reservation demand for these traditional products through a consumer survey.
3) Initiate planning for a community kitchen that could be used to produce traditional products.
Seven enumerators were contracted to collect the surveys in their targeted areas of the Navajo reservation and off reservation. The target population of the survey was both Navajos and non-Navajos and over 18 years old. There was a strong emphasis on the non-Navajos since their input would be useful in any future marketing plans.
Our findings show that slightly more women (54%) than men (42%) completed the survey, and 55% of the respondents said that they were the primary shopper for their family. Ninety-four percent of the respondents live in Arizona or New Mexico.
The largest segment of respondents fell between 36 and 50 years old and the majority of the households were between two and five members. Only 9% of the respondents were on vacation.
Most (78%) of the respondents claim to be Navajo and 87% were familiar with native corn products. When asked if they would purchase native corn products, 75% said they would.
When asked how often they would serve these products in their home, most respondents said monthly or annually.
Half of the respondents were willing to travel over 25 miles to purchase native corn products. Thirty-nine percent expressed interest in purchasing the items from a catalog, and 32% would purchase the items over the Internet.
The survey results may or may not represent an accurate random sample of the Navajo population. However, if it is assumed that the Navajo survey respondents are a representative sample of the Navajo Reservation households, then the survey results may be aggregated to produce estimates of total demand among the Navajo population. Results indicate that this market potentially represents over $100 million annually.
Several items were noticeably popular. These included blue corn mush (which is estimated to be a market over $25 million), blue corn bread (estimated at over $16 million) and native white/yellow corn (with an estimated Navajo demand of over $19 million per year). Roasted ground corn was also extremely popular and represents a potential market of over $15 million per year.
BENEFITS OR IMPACTS ON AGRICULTURE
Based on rough estimates of the number of products that are typically developed by one producer, estimates were derived for the number of producers that could be involved in the market for each type of traditional product. Blue corn mush, which was very popular, would need the greatest number of vendors if the estimated demand were to be met. Preliminary estimates suggest that over 2,000 producers of blue corn mush could enter the market, with estimated revenues of over $12,000 each. These producers might be involved in production of some of the other products, such as blue corn patties or blue corn pancakes. However, if producers only produced one product, the implication is that the market could support 4,281 producers.
Using similar estimations of the quantities of corn needed to supply traditional food producers with enough raw materials to meet the estimated demand, a total of 10,305 acres could be farmed. Typically, some of these farmers would also be involved in producing the traditional foods. Over 2,000 acres of corn are needed in producing blue corn mush, blue corn patties and native white/yellow corn each.
Though our results show great possibilities to generate income from these traditional corn products, the Navajo producers are still somewhat skeptical because there are too many variables (reliable irrigation water, weather, production costs) and risks associated with the approach. The Navajo producers tend to be the elders who hold the land-use permit to farm, while the younger farmers do not yet have the authority to make decisions about new approaches to product selection, cultivation, processing and marketing.
The local producers thought that the community kitchen concept was a good idea, but crop production is not high yet and local prospective kitchens in the community will require a lot of work to motivate and educate the owners to proceed with this idea. In the future, as crop production increases, farmers may well support this concept.
REACTIONS FROM PRODUCERS
The reactions from the producers were that 1) it provided more information for them on traditional corn products, 2) it provided more credence to what they already knew, 3) the information was clearer and helps provide better decisions on their final corn products and 4) non-Navajo are interested in some of these products. Producers are still unsure, but are receptive to the idea of a community kitchen.
RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
The prices used in the survey were estimates based on prices at flea markets and other places where traditional foods are sold. However, it is not yet clear that these products could be produced for the prices asked. Additional research into costs of production is needed before producers can be enticed into the business.
In addition, if producers of traditional products are to increase their production to levels sufficient to meet these demands, a community kitchen or other type of industrial cooking facility is likely to be needed.
Results were presented at two Navajo Nation Joint Farm Board meetings on November 4, 2005, and January 13, 2006, with approximately 20 individuals present at each. Results were also represented at the Navajo Community Irrigation System Strengthening Workshop on March 28, 2006, where approximately 40 farmers were present.