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Mechanisation: women at the controls

Dossier

Alodalomè CUMA rent a tractor to plough their land

© Olivier de Souza

Field report: Benin

Some 60 km from Cotonou, the capital of Benin, a cooperative of female market gardeners has pooled the use of agricultural machinery, dramatically increasing their income. They process cassava with a grating machine acquired through an agricultural equipment cooperative and are considering buying new machinery to increase their production and enter new markets.

Lying on the west bank of Lake Ahémé in Benin, 63 km from the capital Cotonou, the municipality of Comè has 60,000 inhabitants; it is here that a promising experiment is taking place involving a farm machinery cooperative (Coopérative d’utilisation des machines agricoles, or CUMA). For 8 years, Alodalomè CUMA, a cooperative of female market gardeners and processors of agricultural products, has become more profitable, thanks to mechanisation.

Alodalomè CUMA rent a tractor to plough their land

Alodalomè CUMA rent a tractor to plough their land

Olivier de Souza

Making mechanisation accessible

CUMAs have existed in Benin for about 20 years. These farmers’ cooperatives aim at pooling the financial resources of their members in order to buy and use farm machinery. It was in 2009 that the eight female members of the Alodalomè cooperative in Comè chose to subscribe to this model. These women, who are both producers and processors, draw the bulk of their income from an activity that used to be difficult due to the lack of proper equipment and the cost of labour. “Before, we had to pay subcontractors for the processing of cassava. It cost us a lot more money and time,” explains 40-year-old Adèle Anatovi, president of the Alodalomè CUMA. She says the decision to pool their efforts to access machinery was born of an obvious necessity: it was urgent to improve the profitability of their activity.

Alodalomè CUMA succeeded in raising the funds needed to acquire their first agricultural machine in 5 years – a five-horsepower cassava grating machine dedicated to the transformation of the tuber into various local food products, including gari and tapioca (local food products derived from cassava starch), which would then be sold in Comè and surrounding towns and villages. Their initiative had the support of the National CUMA Union of Benin, which helped them to acquire a good quality machine, receive training in its use, and access skills of qualified mechanics in the case of breakdown.

Adding value

“We process cassava into gari and tapioca, and now we produce a minimum of 6 kanti per month (traditional unit of measurement for processed cassava, equivalent to a little over 10 kg) compared to an average of 3 kanti before we bought the machine,” explains Anatovi. This represents a doubling of revenues for each of the women involved in the processing of cassava, to at least 48,000 CFA francs (about €73) per month.

In addition, following talks under the aegis of the National Union of CUMAs of Benin, the Alodalomè CUMA and Comè Municipality agreed a low-cost farm lease on 2 ha of arable land, dedicated to market gardening. This area was then divided into eight equal parts, allotted to the activity of each woman. Thus, the members of the cooperative were able to pool the costs of renting a tractor used for ploughing. Their production of tomatoes, chillies and aubergines supplies markets in towns and villages across the region, up to the Togolese border, 37 km west of Comè, for an income estimated at 300,000 CFA francs (around €450) per 4-month season.

In the future, Anatovi and her fellow female farmers are aiming to supply the Nigerian market further west. Their cooperative is already delivering watermelons across the border into Nigeria, but given the size of the market, the potential to expand production remains great. To make the most of the possibilities, the women are considering purchasing new machinery, both for the processing of cassava and for vegetable production on their land; not only tractors and mechanical graters, but irrigation pumps, planters, and hoes.