The cotton sector, from field to fiber

With their privileged access to government, commodity associations have a special role to play in defending the interests of the sectors they represent. They are gradually becoming more influential in ACP countries, especially when it comes to export products.

At a time when it is more pressing than ever to plan agricultural policies and develop production, strong and well structured commodity associations can be a powerful tool for governments and farmers alike. Now well acknowledged by the public sector, these commodity associations bring together all the players of a value chain and enjoy privileged access to government. They use their role to protect the interests of all the components of the commodity value chain, including producers, processors and traders. The resources and structure of these organisations differ greatly, and these variables, together with the way each body has developed, go some way towards dictating how much influence they have on national policy. Whatever the differences, commodity associations appear to play an increasingly important role in shaping a more robust and competitive agricultural sector.

Models and backgrounds

Commodity associations, inter-professional associations, boards and trade organisations all have a similar structure, but their backgrounds may differ. Private inter-professional associations are organised on the French model. They generally group together all the stakeholders in a single value chain, such as CIRIZ in Senegal, which represents the local rice sector – including representatives from producers, industry, financial institutions, input distributors, traders, consumers, suppliers of agricultural services, public sector institutions and development actors.

Boards, which evolved from the Anglo-Saxon model, generally have their origins in government, with links to the private sector. Exports are their main sphere of action, and examples include the Coffee Industry Board (CIB) in Papua New Guinea and the Coffee Board of Burundi (OCIBU). The guiding mission of the OCIBU is to promote coffee cultivation in Burundi, develop quality standards and ensure that they are respected by all in the value chain. They wield significant rights, including the regulation of marketing, managing quality control and issuing product information.

Trade organisations developed from the Canadian model and are found in some West African countries, where they focus on dialogue between the various interest groups related to a particular agrifood commodity. In Burkina Faso, for example, there are trade organisations for milk, bananas, meat and shea butter.

Backgrounds and origins aside, commodity associations also differ according to the value chain in question. These range from export sectors such as coffee, cocoa and cotton which were often traditionally managed by government, to national food crops such as cereals and shorter, more localised value chains such as onions and processed tomatoes.

Commodity associations’ main roles include advocacy for state support for their particular value chain and involvement in the development of agricultural policy. Many of these bodies have been set up by governments, keen to have a limited number of representatives to deal with for a given sector. The associations also offer scope for the private sector to be involved, an important consideration since this group is often excluded when policies are being implemented.

Each organisation takes on specific tasks, depending on the product and the local context. For market gardeners in Zimbabwe, the key issues are the logistics and organisation of the value chain. For some time, Mali’s meat commodity association FEBEVIM concentrated its efforts on campaigning for the removal of illegal taxes which was hampering exports. Launched in 2004, the Ghana Rice Interprofessional Body (GRIB) brings together more than 8,000 stakeholders and seeks to develop production and promote better quality for local rice. It has managed to persuade the government to introduce a special import tax, making Ghanian rice more competitive on urban markets.

Resources for the future?

The success of commodity associations appears to rely to a large degree on reaching a consensus among stakeholders from the outset. The more structured a value chain is from the beginning, with solid organisations, participants who know and respect each other and a favourable legal framework, the more chance a commodity association has of becoming operational in a short space of time. Cooperatives, producers’ organisations, women processors, traders – all must be involved. Another important asset is the involvement of men and women with political skills who can ensure that common goals are given priority.

But even if all these conditions are met, commodity associations often encounter significant obstacles. Just because the government acknowledges their presence, it does not mean that it necessarily listens to them. Government actions are often swayed by strategic issues connected with a given sector: its contribution to food security, as a source of foreign exchange and/or jobs or to a ‘fair’ distribution of revenues to producers.

It is often far from easy to maintain a balance within the commodity associations themselves, where the most vulnerable players – such as small-scale producers and women processors – do not have the same weight as the more influential members such as traders. Then there is the crucial issue of resources. The more fortunate organisations have outside support from donors or specific taxes decided by their government. A case in point is the GRIB, which used the tax on rice imports to provide quality training to its members. But most commodity associations have to make do with the contributions of their member groups. Lack of adequate resources means there is no money to pay officials and the organisations often end up being poorly run.

Beyond borders

Commodity associations are now starting to emerge at regional level: the poultry sector in eight countries of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CAEMC) have teamed up to tackle competition from imported frozen chicken and make local poultry farming more profitable. In 2009, they launched a regional poultry inter-professional association called IPAR-CEMAC. Promoting product quality is also high on the agenda of most community associations. Examples include speciality coffees in the Dominican Republic and the shea butter trade organisation in Burkina Faso, which focuses on improving marketing conditions. Quality aside, commodity associations are taking a growing interest in geographical indications (GIs). In Cameroon, the Cocoa and Coffee Interprofessional Board (CCIB) is closely involved in talks on GIs. With well established producers’ organisations and a strong institutional environment, this kind of approach could open the way to new development strategies for community associations.

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