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The story of farm co-operatives in Benin is very rich. From the colonial period (1910-1960) to the era that followed independence (1960-1974), the revolutionary years (1975-1989), and the democratic era, several farm co-operative movements were born. Among these, the Rice Farmers Coalition Council of Benin (CCR-B in French) was created very recently.
Born in 2006, the CCR-B received attention very quickly with its vision of being a dynamic and first-choice organization in the rice sector at the national scale. In line with that vision, the organization’s mandate is to:
- Represent rice producers in Benin in all acts of civil, administrative and political life relative to farming in Benin;
- Maintain and defend, with no exception, the interest of rice farmers in Benin and in all places; and
- Promote professionalization of rice producers and coordinate any actions in the context of rice production in Benin.
Today, the CCR-B incorporates six regional unions of rice farmers, about fifty community associations of rice producers, and hundreds of village groups of rice producers.
This radio script introduces you to the co-operative spirit within the Regional Union of Rice Farmers of the Ouémé and Plateau departments (URIZOP), which is a member of the CCR-B. The objective of this script is to show the importance and the need for a well-organized farm co-operative.
The script is based on actual interviews. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.
Host of the show: Félix Houinsou
- Emile Houansou, rice farmer in Dangbo
- Albert Azon Gnadja, rice farmer in Adjohoun
- Jeanne Ahouangnimon, rice farmer in Dangbo
Dear listeners and friends of Radio Immaculée Conceptionin Cotonou, Benin, hello. Welcome to your favourite show dedicated to agriculture. During today’s show, we will tell you about the importance and the need for farmers to get organized in farming co-operatives. We have three guests in the studio. They are Mr. Emile Houansou, Mr. Albert Azon Gnadja, and Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon. They are all rice farmers and members of the Regional Union of Rice Farmers of the Ouémé and Plateau departments, also called URIZOP. They’re going to tell us about their experience with co-operative life.
Dear guests, hello and thanks for responding to our invitation.
I’ll introduce you to our listeners. Mr. Emile Houansou is right in front of me. He’s a rice farmer and the president of URIZOP. On my right is Mr. Albert Azon Gnadja, and on my left is Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon.
I’ll address my first question to you, Mr. Emile Houansou. Tell us the reasons that motivated you to form a farmers’ co-operative.
United we’ll win, as they often say. So our first objective was to get together to become stronger in order to defend our interests as rice farmers, and to organize the rice industry in the Ouémé and the Plateau departments.
We formed a co-operative to help each other understand and manage issues such as labour, soil, finances, management and all the other things which are the foundation of rice production. We also needed good skills to better manage our post-harvest activities and the marketing of our rice.
You know that banks and microfinance institutions do not normally grant credit to farmers. Because the weather is unpredictable, these institutions believe that agricultural production is also unpredictable. So they are not certain that farmers will repay their loans. But when farmers work together and gather in co-operatives, banks and microfinance institutions have more trust in them. Consequently, farmers can receive credit. This allows us to acquire enough working capital to improve our farms. That’s another reason we were motivated to form a co-operative.
Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon, why a farm co-operative focusing only on rice? Is it because rice is the only crop grown in your region?
No, we don’t grow only rice. We produce many other crops, such as maize, cassava, yam, sweet potato, hot peppers, and vegetables. We also do fish farming, and raise poultry, goats and pigs. There were peasant co-operative organizations long before the rice co-operative was started. These organizations dealt with all agricultural crops. So, following the advice “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” we decided to put together a co-operative dedicated exclusively to rice.
Mr. Azon Gnadja Albert, you’re the general secretary of URIZOP. How does someone become a member of URIZOP?
Azon Gnadja Albert:
First, you must be a rice farmer in your village. Then, you must belong to a rice farmers’ association. Your rice field must be at least one acre or two-fifths of a hectare in size. When you have a rice field this large, the village group in your community accepts you as a member. Also, your farmers’ association must be registered with the Community Association of Rice Farmers. And it’s the Community Association that registers with URIZOP. URIZOP in turn is registered with the Rice Farmers Coalition Council of Benin, or CCR-B. CCR-B is the national organization.
How many members does URIZOPhave today?
Azon Gnadja Albert:
URIZOP was created in 2006 and now has 1,473 rice farmers. These farmers are spread around all the communities that produce rice in the Ouémé and Plateau departments.
URIZOP incorporates 90 village groups. The 90 village groups are in the communities of Adjohoun, Dangbo, Bonou, Aguégué and Adja Ouèrè. In other communities, some rice farmers are organizing to register with URIZOP. Our door is open wide to welcome all rice farmers who share our ideals.
Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon, what are the ideals of URIZOP?
We wish URIZOP to be a rice co-operative that brings more prosperity to its members. To accomplish that, we are currently working to change Ouémé and Plateau departments into a powerful rice area where URIZOP gets rice farmers’ land ready for planting before the season starts. Our vision is also to improve the quality of the rice we cultivate, and to secure the markets to sell our harvest.
Mr. Emile Houansou, because you three farmers are not from the same community, please explain how the co-operative spirit expresses itself in the different groups that are members of URIZOP?
The co-operative spirit shows itself in our mutual assistance: “one for all and all for one.”
In the past, everybody used to gather on a communal plot to farm together. But farming communal plots did not create success for rice farmers and did not help them earn more income. So we stopped the old practice of farming on communal fields. With URIZOP, everyone has a separate field, but follows the guidelines of the co-operative. The co-operative is like a melting pot where rice farmer members exchange and share information to improve our farming activities.
How does URIZOP function?
URIZOP is a co-operative with operations throughout the two departments. Its head office is in Adjohoun. It incorporates all community associations of rice farmers in the Plateau and Ouémé departments. In turn, each community association incorporates all the village associations of rice farmers. All the community associations meet in a general assembly to elect a Board of Directors. This Board elects from among its members an executive board. To manage administrative and financial affairs, URIZOP hires staff, including a technical advisor, two members of a technical team and, soon, a secretary/accountant.
URIZOP has a Control Commission composed of three members. That commission manages the businesses of the co-operative. URIZOP’s technical team takes care of the daily activities of the organization.
What are those daily activities?
In the communities, the members of the technical team provide advice to rice farmers and work alongside them. They pass along information from the members to the executive board, and vice versa. If there are any difficulties, the technical team tries to address the situation. If the situation cannot be addressed by the technical team, the executive board intervenes.
However, the community associations have considerable authority. These associations seek financial and material resources in their respective communities. For example, the associations take responsibility for collecting the paddy rice, which they send to processing centres.
What financial resources does URIZOP have, and how is it able to ensure that it can pay the salaries of the staff it employs?
URIZOP’s basic resources come from registration fees and social share payments from its members. Apart from its roles as the farmers’ representative and as a service provider, URIZOP operates several businesses. This gives us some operating money. But since 2009, we have also benefitted from the help of our technical and financial partners.
What are “registration fees” and “social share payments”?
Each community association member of URIZOP pays around 25,000 CFA Francs (about $US50) as a registration fee and 100,000 CFA Francs (about $US200) as a social share payment. Some members may pay one or more social share payments.
Could you please clarify how these member payments work?
The registration fees are used as operating capital for URIZOP. We deposit the social share payments in the bank, and use them as guaranteed capital to get credit from micro-finance institutions, or to buy fertilizer for members and supply them with other services.
One larger issue that many members of co-operatives don’t understand is the need for second-tier co-operatives such as URIZOP to support themselves by building in their costs of operation. Could you clarify exactly how URIZOP builds in its costs?
difficulties collecting share payments from different members. So to ensure that we have enough funds to cover our costs of operation, we set aside 10% of the selling price of each kilogram of crop sold by each rice farmer. That is how URIZOP ensures that it builds in its operational costs.
Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon, since its creation, what has URIZOP accomplished concretely?
Mr. Albert Azon Gnadja, apart from those partnerships, what else has URIZOP accomplished?
Albert Azon Gnadja:
We improved many rice fields. Thanks to its partners, URIZOP donated 170 drying covers and 45 motorized pumps to its members. We also distributed nets to protect rice fields against bird attacks. URIZOP distributed rice seeds to all its members in the previous season. All those donations helped to triple production.
To better motivate the rice farmers, URIZOP is currently making efforts to buy back their harvest. URIZOP is taking the rice farming sector seriously and will expand the area of rice farming in the upcoming season.
Give us some statistics on the quantity of rice harvested since the launch of URIZOP activities until today.
I will just give you the statistics for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011, not to look too far back. In 2009, the production in the region was only around 200 tonnes. We had the potential for greater yields, but it wasn’t being taken advantage of, so we could not make a big profit.
In 2010, there was improvement; production was over 2000 tonnes. During the farming campaign that just ended, we estimate the production at 6000 tonnes. These increases are due to the support of our partners. Today, the average yield is four tonnes per hectare. In the past, we barely reached three tonnes, but today, in the main rice farming areas, we can harvest up to seven tonnes per hectare, without fertilizer. This explains the improved overall yield.
How is the crop is marketed?
First, URIZOP signs a contract with groups of rice farmers at the village level. That contract specifies that URIZOP will send its technical team into the field to help rice farmers during the whole cycle of rice cultivation in order to obtain a good quality crop. After the harvest, URIZOP collects the whole crop from the villages and sells it to ESOP and CAFROP. Those organizations then take care of milling, packaging, and selling it to consumers. URIZOP collects money from ESOP and CAFROP, then distributes it to rice farmers according to the quantity of crop sold by each farmer.
I should mention that CAFROP is a new section of URIZOP. It was recently created in order to improve rice production in Ouémé and Plateau departments.
Dear guests, as rice farmers, what advantages have each of you received from URIZOP?
Truthfully, being a member of this co-operative brings me a lot of advantages. First, it allowed me to benefit from many training opportunities on the different stages of growing rice: from land preparation to harvest. It also helped me to understand how to evaluate income statements, how to understand marketing techniques, and how to manage a producers’ association.
Thanks toAfrica Rice Center,we have access to high-yielding varieties of seeds. We also have access to new rice varieties and innovations in rice farming. Because of all that, it’s prestigious for me to be a rice farmer because rice farming brings me a lot of money. I don’t even envy civil servants. The income from my rice is clearly better than their salaries.
Since I have been with URIZOP, it’s a great relief for me. I found solutions to all the difficulties I had before. As soon as I joined, I benefited from trainings. Thanks to these trainings, I now know the technical details of rice production. I know how to make a rice seed bed, how to calculate the quantity of seeds necessary for the size of my rice field, how to calculate the date on which I must apply fertilizer, and the dose needed for my field.
Unlike in the past, when I was working without knowing what I was doing, today I can calculate all the production costs for my rice. This allows me to calculate the price at which I should sell my harvest. At first, since I didn’t know these techniques well enough, my field was a little less than half a hectare. But since I joined URIZOP, my field grew to two hectares. And I earn a lot. My rice harvest is six tonnes per hectare. This allows me to meet the needs of my family. I used to have an old motorcycle, but I have bought a new motorcycle.
Personally, I was lucky to have worked in the 1970s in the rice farming zone of what was then called the National Corporation for Irrigation and Hydro-farming Installations, also called SONIAH. When I joined URIZOP, I noticed a big difference. I worked for SONIAH as a labourer. But I didn’t earn enough to meet my family’s needs. With URIZOP, I have my own rice field. I have easy access to all the things I need to grow rice. I can manage the income from my harvest appropriately. This allows me to better meet my family’s needs. I have built my own house. Joining this co-operative brings me all the advantages that my colleagues mentioned earlier.
Closing signature tune in background under host’s voice
Farmers’ co-operatives like the Regional Union of Rice Farmers of Ouémé and Plateau departments are not common in Benin. But they provide a good example! We invite all farmers to follow it. Why? Because working within a co-operative can bring prosperity. On this note, we will end our show. Thank you to all our guests. And thank you, dear listeners. Goodbye!
Fade in of signature tune, hold, then progressive fade out
Contributed by: Félix Houinsou, Radio Immaculée Conception, Benin, a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.
Reviewed by: John Julian, Director, International Communications & Policy, Canadian Co-operative Association.
- Ouémé and Plateau: The map of Benin is subdivided into 12 departments. Ouémé and Plateau are two neighbouring departments in southeast Benin. They both border on Nigeria. URIZOP is the co-operative formed by the merger of the rice producers’ associations in these two departments. It is one of six regional co-operatives that form the national organization called the Rice Farmers Coalition Council of Benin (CCR-B).
- CeRPA: Regional Centre for Farming Promotion. CeRPA is a state institution under the umbrella of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. It is responsible for extension work, supervision, and technical support to farmers. CeRPA is a regional institution, hence departmental. In many principal towns, CeRPA has a branch called a Community Centre for Farming Promotion (CeCPA). CeCPA has direct contact with farmers, herders and fishermen who live in different villages.
Interview in March 2011 with Mr. Émile Houansou, Mr. Albert Gnadja and Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon, rice farmers and members of URIZOP’s Board
Emile Houansou, President of URIZOP’s Board
Pascal Gbenou, President of the Rice Farmers Coalition Council of Benin (CCR-B)