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West Africa: Farmer groups respond to lack of funding (by Inoussa Maïga, for Farm Radio Weekly)

Soumaïla Sanou and the other cereal farmer members of the Comité interprofessionnel des céréaliers du Burkina, or CICB, are savouring their success. While many farmer groups find it difficult or impossible to fund their agricultural activities, Mr. Sanou and members of his organization have successfully raised 52 million West African francs [$107,000 U.S.] and placed it in a member’s fund.

During a recent international conference on financing for agriculture held in Nairobi, Kenya, Mr. Sanou, the president of CICB, explained how the organization achieved its success. The group raised the funds by selling bulk grain which members had contributed from their own harvests. CICB will use the money to fund bulk purchases of fertilizer for member farmers.

Mr. Sanou explains,“The fertilizer that each producer receives is proportional to the quantity of grain he sold to the organization.” CICB returns any leftover cash to its member’s accounts after purchasing the fertilizer and sends each farmer a receipt detailing the amount they are owed.

But the group’s success came only after members were forced into taking the initiative for themselves. CICB was established because local banks refused to grant loans to individual farmers. The banks argued that the farmers could not provide sufficient evidence of their ability to repay.

Bassiaka Dao is a director of a West African network of small-scale and commercial farmers’ organizations known as ROPPA. Mr. Dao says that governments have established agricultural banks, while farmers have formed credit unions. He believes, however, that the agricultural banks were often poorly structured. He adds, “Their capacity for lending remains weak, and many have failed after turning their focus away from financing agriculture.”

Left to their own devices, the farmers were forced to come up with their own solutions. Farmers’ organizations across West Africa have developed mechanisms to improve members’ access to basic agricultural services such as fertilizers, equipment and small loans. They have even developed markets to encourage commodity trade.

Another success story comes from Niger. The Fédération des Unions des Coopératives de Producteurs de Riz, or FUCOPRI, organizes bulk sales of paddy rice in the country. Ayouba Hassane is the group’s technical director. He says that the federation was formed “to deal with the thorny issue of marketing.”

Mr. Hassane adds, “The leaders of the federation were able to convince the Nigerien government to buy the local paddy rice boost food security.” He says this has solved the crucial problem of getting funds to co-operatives to help them function.

These are the kinds of initiatives that enable organizations to meet the most pressing needs of women and men farmers, particularly the most deprived.

Things are gradually starting to change, and the financial situation of farmers is improving. Mr. Sanou says, “Yesterday we were running after the banks; today, the banks are coming to us with credit.”