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“The circular economy has always been present in Africa.”

Dossier: Circular economy


Murielle Diaco's viewpoint

The company Djouman is part of the African Circular Economy Network (ACEN) that promotes “new forms of economic production and consumption which maintain and regenerate environmental resources”. Djouman’s founder, Murielle Diaco, answers our questions.

Launched in 2016, the platform Djouman – meaning ‘to work’ in the Ebrié language (Côte d’Ivoire) – brings together African start-ups and investors looking to initiate joint sustainable development and innovation projects. Managing director of the platform, Murielle Diaco, explains the company’s objectives.

You are a country representative for ACEN. The circular economy may seem rather nascent across the continent; do you feel that the pace of development towards a more sustainable future is happening fast enough?

The circular economy has always been present in Africa; many practices are entrenched in African societies, such as the sparing use of raw materials, the reuse of products, and ‘tontines’ (economic cooperatives), which are part of the participatory economy for promoting the sharing of knowledge and services. With the global trend towards ‘Westernisation’, Africa is caught in the middle. We’re leaning towards a consumerist economy and starting mass production, with enormous pressure on African populations and their leaders to consume more, and in a linear fashion. It is even more difficult given that we are in an internationalised world, so major industrial groups in the food and other sectors are arriving in Africa with these devastating models.

The challenge is presenting other, more inclusive and sustainable models of development, as people get the impression they are being prevented from attaining what developed countries possess. So, work needs to be done to explain that we are not obliged to develop like the Europeans and Asians. At AECN, we explain that development involves drawing on what we already know how to do.

Where do you see the most exciting potential/examples related to agriculture/agribusiness?

We are seeing many permaculture and agroecology projects emerge. We are therefore starting to imitate ecosystem models instead of monoculture models, which use endemic plant species that consume few resources. In Burkina Faso, for example, associations and small enterprises have developed agroecology projects, where they have combined traditional skills with innovative methods that make it possible to reuse production residues to make improved compost or treat crops. And in Benin, the Jardins de l’Espoir (Gardens of Hope) – an incubator of agriculture projects with educational demonstration farms – has developed a compost made out of rice residues called BOKASHI. In South Africa, initiatives are underway to ensure food security in shantytowns where people grow their own produce.

What inspired you to launch Djouman and how do you see the future of your company?

My main motivation was to help Africans to be self-sufficient. I was spurred on by the fact that there is an enormous number of projects aimed at creating greater sustainable development in Africa. These projects, however, are limited because they lack connections to global networks, financing and skills. The idea of Djouman is therefore to bring all that to the players who are already doing interesting things in the field; we want to develop a network in sub-Saharan Africa between countries with relatively similar development problems. So, the idea is that these African players can exchange with each other and learn from each other in order to have greater impact.

Concerning our vision for the future, we have also made the decision to engage in youth training projects. At Djouman, we want to enable young people to shoulder the responsibility of sustainability by creating their own income-generating activities through entrepreneurship, and by carrying out actions that build a more liveable future for everyone. Towards this end, we are building youth capacities in agroecology and green entrepreneurship through AgroBootCamp training centres.

Consumers are beginning to make more ethical decisions, which is driving change in agribusiness to be more sustainable and use resources more efficiently, but how can policymakers also support this?

Policymakers are aware that we can no longer continue to exhaust all the resources, for example, through ultra-intensive farming. The move to action, however, is slow. At Djouman, we are encouraging the creation of regulatory frameworks that force industrialists to take greater account of their impact.

Everywhere around the world, consumers have power and they can put pressure on major brands to make them change their supply or production methods. We know this works, so we need to call on civil society players in order to put forth proposals and persuade policymakers to impose restrictive frameworks. Without restrictions, nothing will happen.

In addition, we need to shed light on responsible and sustainable initiatives that work well, such as ‘green businesses’ which have minimal negative impacts on the global or local environment, society and the economy. We need to create dialogue between all stakeholders – private and public sectors, associations – to find solutions for how to transition towards increasing such enterprises to achieve sustainable development.