While the history of agricultural cooperatives in Central Africa since the 1980s has been marked by many failures, mainly linked to weak institutional governance and the lack of any economic response to the needs of local operators, the last 10 years have seen the emergence of a much more positive trend. Cooperatives are gradually modernising and becoming more professional. Establishing a farmers’ cooperative and associative movement in this region is a key prerequisite for agricultural development.
CTA’s involvement with the ‘Plateforme des organisations paysannes d’Afrique centrale’ (PROPAC) within the framework of the Manioc 21 project reflects our commitment to support the development and professionalisation of agricultural cooperatives in Central Africa by focusing specifically on the cassava sector. This sector plays a key role in the region, both in terms of food security and the employment of women and young people. The aim is to set up an organisational, economic and social model that can meet the high expectations of stakeholders in the field, adapt to their specific needs and be replicated throughout the region.
In order to meet this objective, it was decided to support a relatively small number of cooperatives – five in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and five in Cameroon – and also to adopt a simple but robust intervention methodology: detailed audit, needs analysis, adapting a proven curriculum, training of 50 leaders, development of business plans, budget allocation for the purchase of processing equipment, incubation/coaching for commercial development, and financial intermediation. The dynamics of change require a whole series of elements that take time to work. The professionalisation of cooperatives is therefore a long process, which unfortunately is not in line with the generally very short duration of projects on the ground – between two and five years. Hence the need to provide them with the tools and skills to become autonomous as soon as possible: this is precisely the purpose of our intervention.
The first nine months of the Manioc 21 project gave us a good understanding of the current situation of the target cooperatives – which have a total of about 10,000 members. They enabled us to analyse their needs in detail using a methodology developed by the Dutch consulting firm SCOPEInsight. As a result, we were able to adapt a series of training courses from the Agribusiness Leadership programme (ALP) developed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s subsidiary in charge of the private sector, and delivered in close collaboration with PROPAC. All these activities mean that the 10 cooperatives are now able to initiate their own change management methods.
My recent discussions in Kinshasa with the leaders of the five Congolese cooperatives supported by the project showed a real commitment in this transformation process. They are mobilising financial resources for the purchase of equipment as set out in their business plans, proving that cooperatives can become real actors in local economic development.
The necessary professionalisation of cooperatives must be supported. Manioc 21 thus provides weekly support in change management for 50 cooperative leaders. This is the aim of the second phase of the project, which began in April, with the finalisation of business plans, the sizing of investments, and the ordering of equipment. Commercial development is also a significant step in this phase. It is important for cooperatives to be able to develop new, more profitable markets that will allow them to capitalise on the investments to be made. The discussions held in Kinshasa with the Fédération des entreprises du Congo (FEC) focused on this dimension, and promising contacts have been established with potential buyers for the large-scale distribution of cassava flour.
Many challenges remain, and the next six months will be decisive for the success of this pilot project. Stay tuned for the next milestone in September!