It is six o’clock in the morning and the sun is rising. Jean Simon Awana Otabela and 11 other farmers walk into Taddhée Tsanga’s field in Monatélé, a town about one hour’s drive from Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital city. They have come to help Mr. Tsanga harvest his cassava.
The 13 farmers make up the Monatélé farmers co-operative. Today, the farmers have much to do. Mr. Otabela motivates his colleagues by saying, “We must hurry because everything must be finished no later than 8:30 before it starts to get hot.”
Without further ado, Mr. Otabela, the president of the co-operative, divides up the tasks and everyone gets to work. Some dig tubers while others pile them in wheelbarrows. The co-op members sing as they work. After an hour and a half, the harvest is complete.
Mr. Otabela explains that the group creates a schedule to share the work, based on what each farmer produces: “For one or two days, everyone works in one person’s field. The following day, it’s the turn of another person’s field, and so on until the end.” He says the co-operative was formed to pool members’ efforts, and to help everyone save time and produce more at a lower cost.
Mr. Tsanga expresses his satisfaction. He says: “If I had not become a member … I would be farming on a very small piece of land this year because I did not have enough money to pay seasonal labourers.” He says labour is expensive. A seasonal worker is paid 1000 FCFA a day, about two US dollars. He adds: “Also, we have to carefully motivate these people to work. Otherwise, they will work slowly in order to work more days.”
After drinking and resting for five minutes, the group walks in single file for half a kilometre to Essimi Joseph’s field. His cassava is next in line. Mr. Joseph is pleased. He says, “This solidarity enables each of us to save at least 100,000 FCFA per growing season [about $200 US] by reducing the cost of labour.”
By 8:15, the two fields have been harvested. The group loads the cassava into plastic fibre bags known in Cameroon as filets. The filet is the unit of measurement for selling cassava.
Mr. Otabela makes phone calls to find out the market price. Then the farmers agree to set their minimum selling price at 10,000 FCFA per filet. The actual selling price will depend on each farmer’s capacity to negotiate.
The co-operative’s president explains: “We set a minimum selling price to limit unfair competition between us. Before we organized ourselves, we could sell at a loss because we did not know the prices charged by other sellers, and buyers would often cheat us.”
But not everyone is happy with this arrangement. Mary Magdalene Tsanga is a trader. She buys in bulk from farmers and sells to women who re-sell the food in the market. She says: “Negotiations have become difficult. Because all [the farmers] have the same minimum selling price, we are forced to sell even when our profit margin is reduced. ”
The traders may not be happy. But the 13 members of the co-operative are pleased that working in solidarity is bringing financial rewards.