Business Development Forum on Sesame from Mali: A decisive step towards competitiveness
The 2SCALE-facilitated Sesame Business Development Forum held 16-19 May 2017, a multi-stakeholder diagnosis and planning forum designed by ICRA, brought together the company Promotion du Sesame au Mali (PROSEMA), the networks of sesame collectors, leaders of 120 producer’s organizations currently in the restructuring phase in cooperatives, public structures (namely l’Office de la Haute Vallée du Niger, the Regional Directorates of Agriculture of Ségou and Koulikoro), and Mali Protection of Cultures (MPC), which is one of the largest suppliers of inputs in Mali.
At the heart of the forum was the issue of discovering how to optimize the leadership and the business inclusiveness strategy of PROSEMA to boost the sesame sector in Mali. This depends mainly on the loyalty between the actors of the sesame partnership, especially the loyalty of the small producers vis-à-vis the company PROSEMA, in a context of recurring fluctuations in market prices, tension around the raw material and perpetual questioning of contractual commitments.
Let’s say the truth, and nothing but the truth
“We are here to make a clear diagnosis of our respective constraints and challenges. The effectiveness of the solutions that will be designed depend on the clarity and honesty of this diagnosis. No actor in this room can claim to be blameless, including me who speaks to you. I would ask you to have a frank language, and to speak the truth, nothing but the truth. This forum should not just be one more forum, but the forum that kick-starts the competitiveness of our industry,” said Soumailaya Coulibaly, CEO of PROSEMA and elected president of the Interprofessional Sesame Network of Mali (ISAM).
Daouda Traoré, chairman of the Federation of Sesame Producers’ Organizations in Mali, said that “the forum offers an opportunity to strengthen the sustainability of the business relations between the actors and to consolidate the achievements recorded within the Partnership, in particular the structuring of a supply network capable of meeting the increasing demand from international markets (India, Israel, Japan, European Union countries and especially China) and their increased demand quality”.
Stepping into the shoes of your partner
The forum was opened by a role-playing game, an exercise of empathy and mutual understanding through which several issues were dealt with: the low level of price transparency, due to information asymmetry between actors; the speculative practices from some service providers or sesame collectors, the non-compliance with the sales contracts by producers – in terms of volume, quality weight and repayment of pre-financing of inputs credit; the cash flows tensions at PROSEMA level, etc. All these issues were deeply analyzed in group work and plenary sessions. For Baba Togola, 2SCALE Agribusiness Advisor, “The issue of loyalty is crucial and if not addressed, the resulting lack of confidence can undermine the sustainability of a partnership and undermine the competitiveness of any value chain.”
Indeed, when the sesame market is ignited, neither PROSEMA’s downstream intervention strategy (e.g., support for the training of producers and provision of input credit – F CFA 50 million in 2016), nor even the formalization of contracts appear to be sufficient to convince the producers to sell the valuable raw material to the company, especially since the buyers from outside Mali speculate on prices, and do not require any guarantee of quality of the product.
Beyond this issue of unpredictable breaching of contractual commitments, lack of transparency and mutual defiance, the participatory diagnostic led during the forum highlighted many other challenges. They include: 1) the low yields of sesame in Mali, which is only around 300 kg/ha, due to the difficult access to specific inputs and quality seeds; 2) the high impurity level of sesame – which sometimes amounts to 12%; 3) the difficult of access to financial services, mainly due to the banks’ lack of knowledge and fear of the sector they see as very risky; 4) poor organizational capacities of the producer organizations (POs), which are often unable to render services to their members; and, more generally, 5) the low level of structuring of the whole sesame industry in Mali.
A pragmatic roadmap
To consolidate the competiveness of sesame from Mali on International markets where it is much appreciated, the actors have designed and validated an action plan that is meant to be concrete and implementable in the short and medium term. The priorities of the roadmap include supporting the inclusiveness of the sector via (1) better prices for producers and suppliers, which implies ongoing certification of the sesame as a prerequisite for PROSEMA to access profitable markets; 2) increased involvement of social investors and banks in the sector; 3) the signing of pre-campaign contracts between PROSEMA and the producers; (4) advocacy for state support, through the facilitation of a price stabilization fund1; 5) the mobilization of endogenous resources at the level of POs and cooperative units to facilitate access to input credits and sesame collar; and 6) continuous improvement of sesame quality. This last issue is all the more important as PROSEMA is committed to a quality approach, the culmination of which will be the obtaining of the ISO 14 001 ISO 22 000 certification relating respectively to environmental standards and sanitary quality.
A roadmap was adopted to ensure the implementation of the action plan, and a monitoring committee was set up for this purpose. In addition to PROSEMA, the committee will convene each quarter to discuss achievements and pending issues. For Daouda Traore, president of the federation of sesame producers, “The originality of the forum lies in the methodological approach of 2SCALE, which places the actors at the center of the diagnosis and strengthens their capacities to formulate strategies themselves. Our destiny is in our own hands, and none of the challenges analyzed is insurmountable if everyone plays his part in equity and transparency.”
Post scriptum: “Quality is first and foremost a state of mind. Feminine? “
Contrary to a well-grounded idea – which considers that quality depends on modern equipment available to small producers – IFDC’s experience shows that the impurity level of sesame (estimated at 10% at individual producer level and 3% at producer organization level), is rather a matter of transparency (and thus an issue of behavior change) than a question of technology. Approximately 40% of the sesame supplied to PROSEMA is cleaned by women, such as Rokia, Assa and Juliette, who are Responsible for Quality within the Union des Producteurs du Cercle de Tominian (UACT). In a producers’ organization where women are empowered, the purity rate of sesame can reach 95%!