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North African delegation on French agricultural cooperative study tour, November 2017

13 November, 2017

Agricultural cooperatives have been thriving for decades in Brittany, one of France’s leading vegetable and dairy producing regions.

Showing how such business-minded cooperatives can improve farmers’ prospects – and create jobs – was the focus of a five-day study tour to Brittany for a delegation from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in July.

The group included representatives from producer organizations, agricultural cooperatives, interprofessional organizations and the respective governments.

Organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the study tour was part of broader FAO and EBRD projects supporting the development of agricultural cooperatives in the three North African countries.

“Quite simply, the idea is that as a farmer, you can do so much more in a cooperative than you can on your own, especially if you want to influence prices, have some bargaining power with retailers or processors, or do things that require major investments, like buying machinery or establishing a brand,” said Emmanuel Hidier, FAO Senior Economist.

Strength in numbers

The group visited Cerafel, a union of vegetable, fruit and horticulture producer organizations boasting some 2,600 members.

Consumers buying fresh produce under Cerafel’s “Prince de Bretagne” brand, created in 1970, know that what they are buying is of top quality and part of Brittany’s rich agricultural heritage.

Maïwenn Bullier, Director of Cerafel, said that the association has managed to create “10 000 direct jobs and 15 000 indirect jobs in Brittany.”

She added that along with providing a range of services to its members, including marketing and distribution, Cerafel invests heavily in agricultural research and development, testing new varieties and improving food quality, food safety and environmental practices.

A tour of the local producer-managed auction market further drove home the point that there is strength in numbers as the delegation saw how cooperatives can influence market prices for their products – something farmers working alone would be hard-pressed to do.

Maintaining team spirit

The delegation met with officials at Even, a major cooperative food industry group founded in Brittany in 1930 to process milk and dairy products sustainably.

Today, its brands, including Paysan Breton and Régilait, are sold in more than 110 countries.

Even, which turned over EUR 2.1 billion in 2016, is divided into four business units. One unit provides upstream support, including with farm management, milk production and inputs, while another one deals with milk and dairy products. Food product distribution, such as home delivery and food services, and prepared meals and curing make up the other units.

It employs more than 6,000 people and has 1,400 member farmers.

Guy Le Bars, President of the cooperative group, spoke of the importance of good governance and leadership and how such a cooperative as big as Even maintains team spirit with its many members:

“Our members are both shareholders and milk suppliers, so having good working relationships built on trust is vital to the health and efficiency of the cooperative. We are constantly researching the best ways to respond to all our members, holding regular meetings for feedback and input, and ensuring a good flow of information.”

Next up

The delegation also visited a sorting and packaging station to learn more about quality control, as well as a research centre, and met with various regional agricultural officials.

Ines Kaabachi, Service Chief of the General Directorate for Financing, Investments and Professional Organizations (DGFIOP) of Tunisia said, “The tour was eye-opening for us to see how good incentives can enable individual producers to organize themselves for the benefit of their own businesses. This is especially timely for us as our countries are elaborating upon new policies for the agricultural cooperative movement.”

Overall, the study tour provided considerable food for thought on how to develop efficient and commercially viable agricultural cooperatives.

“One of the main key lessons taken away from the study tour is that Brittany cooperatives are the direct result of farmers’ own initiatives. Farmers who were experiencing price or outlet crises created their own cooperative to solve their problems. The change was brought about by the farmers themselves,” said Denis Herbel, FAO Senior Advisor for Producer Organizations and Cooperatives, noting that there is now interest in organizing a twinning project in which cooperatives in Brittany would coach select producer organizations in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

Victoria Zinchuk, Head of Agribusiness Advisory at the EBRD added that FAO and the EBRD will continue “to support dialogue with all players, from both the public and private sectors, as these countries move forward in strengthening their respective agricultural cooperative sectors, which are the backbone of sustainable agrifood systems.”

Watch the project video here and read more about the project here.

Article in FR .