Nelly Bassily | October 10, 2011
Good harvests usually mean happy farmers. But this year’s success is bittersweet for rice farmers in southwest Burkina Faso, as they struggle to sell their produce. The storeroom at the agricultural co-operative in Founzan is still full. Farmers stored forty tonnes of rice, but have sold only ten.
Many say this is because of the government. Last May, under pressure from consumers and rice importers, the government subsidized the price of rice. The aim was to control soaring grain prices. Local rice was subsidized by about 12%, and imported rice by 24%. The price of a kilogram of rice was fixed at 300 CFA, about 60 cents. But in order to make a profit, the co-operative needs to sell rice at 350 CFA per kilo.
Hélène Coulibaly is a rice producer from Pâ and a member of the co-operative. For her, maintaining that price is a matter of survival. She says, “Selling below 350 CFA endangers the lives of my family. At this price, we make no profit.”
Félicité Kambou is the director of the co-operative, known as COPSA. COPSA is based in Founzan and works with farmers from six provinces in west and southwest Burkina Faso. Ms. Kambou is angered by the government’s purchase prices. She says, “We refuse to follow these steps! If we lower prices, we do not make any money.”
So the co-operative is maintaining its selling price of 350 CFA, fully aware that it is not competitive. The members justify this choice on two grounds, and use two related strategies to market and sell their rice: quality and patriotism. The co-operative emphasizes the quality of its rice in the press and to local shopkeepers. Ms. Kambou says: “Quality has a cost. We produce healthy products. The consumer must accept higher prices for quality rice.”
Its second marketing strategy invites Burkinabe farmers to support their country by eating local rice. Ms. Kambou says, “Consuming imported rice makes foreigners rich, while our farmers are dying. We need to consume local products.”
The strategy is beginning to work. Some well-known restaurants in the two main cities of Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouagadougou now offer dishes made with local rice. But the best news comes from SONAGESS, the government agency responsible for ensuring food security in Burkina Faso. The agency offered to buy the co-operative’s entire stock of rice for 320 CFA per kilo. This price is slightly less than the co-operative hoped for, but the producers see it as a great victory.
The co-operative is taking its concerns to the national coalition of local rice producers, CIRB. In mid-October, CIRB will meet with the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss the price of local rice. Until then, the co-operative is busy planning long-term measures. Ms. Kambou explains: “We must create a system of information and marketing to change consumer behaviour. The survival of our agriculture is at stake.”