Better together: The promise of cooperatives
Insights from Rice Cooperatives in Burkina Faso
Let us introduce you to a few members of cooperatives in the rice business:
Bibata Ilboudo, 62, has been President of the Société Coopérative Simplifiée des Étuveuses de Riz de Komsilga (eng.: “Simplified Cooperative Society of Rice Parboilers”) in Komsilga, Burkina Faso for the past three years. She is recently widowed and has five adult children. In the past, her husband used to grow rice, but since he passed away last year, she now purchases paddy rice to process and sell.
Besides rice sells, Bibata Ilboudo sells vegetables and sesame too. Parts of the income she derives from these sellings, she invests to buy rice.
When Bibata Ilboudo is asked what she perceives as being the benefit of forming a cooperative, she says:
"To work alone and to work together are not the same thing.”
From her point of view, firstly, the cooperative offers an infrastructure, to which she would not have access to if she would work on her own. Secondly, within and as a cooperative the women have access to finance – an essential toolkit for being an entrepreneur. The bank considers the women collectively what gives them more borrowing power, as credit is important, Bibata Ilboudo explains. It gives the women more purchasing power to buy more paddy rice to process, and therefore satisfy greater demand as well as realize greater profits.
Nevertheless, Bibata Ilboudo mentions as a remaining challenge the scouting of enough reliable buyers. Now, UNERIZ, the national rice Parboiling women cooperative union of which Bibata Ilboudo’s cooperative is a member of, is supporting them in finding buyers for their rice.
All in all, Bibata Ilboudo is convinced that the cooperative is profitable. By being part in the cooperative, she and the other women have for example the funds to pay a mechanic to repair the mill when it breaks down.
Adama Sanon tells us about challenges within cooperatives: For example, when sowing begins, farmers should plant at the same time, but due to a lack of machinery, only one power hoe for 10 people is available. Therefore, the members have to wait for their turn to do the planting. In addition, there are water issues resulting from inadequately maintained infrastructure. The fields which are located away from the main canals may not receive enough water during dryer parts of the season.
Nevertheless, Adama Sanon highlights many advantages of being part of a cooperative: not least that the cooperative can facilitate access to good quality inputs for its members.
Kadidiatou Tapsoba, 32, is the Manager of the Société Coopérative Simplifiée des Étuveuses de Riz de Komsilga in the village of Komsilga, Burkina Faso.
Although not a rice grower herself, she has been working in a voluntary capacity since then. As the members, many of whom are illiterate, are not able to manage the business on their own, she supports the process. According to Tapsoba, the cooperative buys paddy rice, both from members and from other growers.
The cooperative bears the cost of milling, and members prepare, parboil and bag the rice, earning XOF 1000 (€ 1.52) per 100kg sack of paddy rice processed. The aim is to earn sufficient revenue to cover outlays, ensure the maintenance of the center and equipment, and pay out dividends to members.
Tapsoba explains that at the moment the profits are being used as surety for bank finance that allows them to purchase primary inputs. The cooperative cultivates a 1200-hectare plain. It is dedicated to rice cultivation and is fed by canals that carry water from the Kou River.
Mariam Ouedraogo, 50, president of the Sinignassigui rice producers’ cooperative, stands next to her rice paddies on the edge of the village, where she lives in Bama in the Hauts-Bassins region of Burkina Faso.
Mariam Ouedraogo recounts that she was born in Bama, and “grew up with rice” as her parents were rice farmers. Now she and her husband are rice growers as well.
Mariam cultivates a hectare of her own and, additionally, she is being responsible for six hectares of land belonging to Environmental and Agricultural Research Institute - Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA), where she is involved in trials to produce better rice seeds.
Approximately 30 years ago, Mariam explains, growers used to work individually. However, they had difficulties in finding suitable and reliable buyers. Therefore, the government advisors counselled the smallholder farmers to form groups. Then, a few years ago, a new law required that these groups be formalized as cooperatives. Initially, women’s and men’s cooperatives were separated, until men realized that it was easier to get funding, if they include women in their cooperatives.
“Projects would come,” Mariam Ouedraogo says, “and they would ask, ‘Where are the women?’” This was a window of opportunity, in her view, as the men now know that they need women, as the women hold power.
Ouedraogo feels working in a cooperative is far preferable to working individually, because of the advantages the cooperative brings: capacity building, assistance of advisors, access to inputs such as fertilizers, and transfer of knowledge about good practices such as organic fertilizer production and protection of the environment. Ultimately, Mariam highlights that the yields are much better, and the business is more profitable.
CARI’s partners support and work together with cooperatives in Burkina Faso. CARI sees the opportunity that cooperatives can approach challenges of climate change, price dumping, volatility of markets, low youth and women involvement, financing and more. Together, they can drive change that is necessary to make the value chain more sustainable and resilient.