Give or Build?

“To face the challenge of structural transformation of African agricultural economies – which policies and what resilience mechanism?” This choice was the theme of a panel discussion chaired by Ms. Anne Ouloto, spokesperson for Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of Environment, on Friday, November 17, at SARA 2017.

Analyzing this theme in light of my own recent experience, I remember the famous saying “The best help is the one that helps us to do without help.” It came back to me while I was sitting in the waiting room of the Regional Council of Agricultural Development of Korhogo. The department’s mission is to implement Côte d’Ivoire’s agricultural policy at the regional level. However, this often results in extensive distribution of inputs and/or equipment.

I went there to meet the managers of this service and discuss the synergy and possible complementarities between 2SCALE and the regional department in charge of agriculture. My objective? To direct some of the department’s “help” to the actors that 2SCALE supports in the north of the country – but in keeping with the spirit and principle of 2SCALE, to do it while mobilizing the contribution of the beneficiaries, and establishing an entrepreneurial state of mind.

My wait lasted about an hour in an air-conditioned room at minus 18°C. That’s great after 5 hours spent running in the fields! I reviewed my notes to convince the department of 2SCALE’s basic principle: you do not develop agriculture with donations! To me this premise is fundamental to competitiveness in the agricultural sector in general and particularly in market gardening, which I know better. But how do you convince government officials who are used to donating to individual farmers rather than building market-driven farming systems?

I had developed two key arguments, and then outlined an alternative that seemed solid to me:

1) Giving for free kills the spirit of entrepreneurship. The classic scheme consists of buying and distributing free agricultural inputs or so-called innovative technologies, but it has been demonstrated in past decades that this approach generates no lasting impact. There are several reasons for this, more or less known and accepted by development experts. One of the reasons is this: if you get something for free, you are less inclined to value it and make it grow. This is a human trait and truth revealed by all the experiments, in the agricultural sector as elsewhere.

An example: Until recently, a major project funded by donors and the Ivoirian government donated drip irrigation kits to producers in the north of the country. A year later, these tools that cost billions in FCFA are in a state of total disrepair. I could see it at a glance while on a field visit. The women themselves pick them up sometimes to put them in heaps and store them, because they find the installations bother them. I haven’t managed to understand why something meant to liberate women from the chore of watering could become a problem like that. I believe if they had contributed at least half the investment necessary to buy the kits, the fate of this equipment would have been different. But that’s not the worst effect of giving for free!

2) Giving for free kills the business of real entrepreneurs. By distributing agricultural equipment for free that is also available for sale on the market, the state and donors, despite their good intentions, kill the trade of local entrepreneurs already operating in this market.

What are the alternatives to such welfare state policies? How can public sector support to actors in the agricultural sector be made profitable and sustainable? Are aid and entrepreneurship reconcilable? I dare to answer in the affirmative – case in point: the 2SCALE program in Côte d’Ivoire.

In 2016, IFDC introduced the 2SCALE program in Côte d’Ivoire with a portfolio of partnerships focusing on soybeans, rice and vegetables products. In the vegetables sector alone, we have developed 8 agriculture Agribusiness Cluster (ABC). In barely a year and a half, four of these ABC have already reached cruising speed!

It is important to understand that an ABC is a platform that connects all the key players in a given value chain from farmers up, including input suppliers, producers, traders and often microfinance institutions. All these actors are interdependent and must therefore interact and cooperate to improve their revenue, through consulting each other and by rendering mutual services.

The producers trained by 2SCALE now source from well-known input suppliers with whom they have developed trusted relationships. Formerly isolated and unable to afford much investment in their business, the producers are now united in groups and sometimes cooperatives. They negotiate as one with their inputs suppliers and traders. They even negotiate with microfinance institutions in Korhogo, Bouzali, Wongolo – and frequently with COOPEC (Coopérative d’Epargne et de Crédit) – to be able to afford inputs and small production equipment. Some, like Dorcasse Soro (at right in photo), have opened bank accounts for the first time in their lives. This way of doing business is a new dynamic the actors say they have never seen in Côte d’Ivoire.

2SCALE’s supported ABC in Côte d’Ivoire are combining access to technology (tropical seeds, fertilizer) and market with access to credit – and above all, access to stakeholder relations. I am no little bit proud to have ignited the start of this structural change: the change of mindset. Today, women we have trained in this process are so confident of the new system that they have begun duplicating the 2SCALE approach to other crops. They make purchases of inputs as a group, and organize collective sales of products such as néré (a local fermented spice), shea butter and groundnut paste.

How it used to be in northern Côte d’Ivoire when a project started, people would rub their hands and wait for something to be “given” to them. Today, with 2SCALE, what we give is knowledge – that is, learning how to become an entrepreneur! In my humble view, this is the way towards resilience. And after my wait that day, when I explained 2SCALE’s approach, it did not take much to convince the managers that it’s good to help people to do without help. But convincing is not always getting into action, let’s wait and see.


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