The banana, a crop that can sustain its men… and women

The banana, a crop that can sustain its men… and women

in News

Mamadou Ciss, current Executive Secretary of APROVAG, celebrated his first 1,5 year as coordinator of the Association des PROducteurs de la VAllée fleuve de la Gambie (Gambia River Valley Producers’ Association). We decided to interview him to hear a direct account from the new coordinator of the banana producers’ organisation and a key figure in the project.

Rikolto has worked with APROVAG since 2007. The journey has not always been smooth but, despite the difficulties, significant progress has been made. These changes pose new challenges that Mamadou is ready to face.

Mr Ciss, you started working for APROVAG in September 2017, could you tell us a positive story that you remember especially since your arrival?

I’m not going to tell you the story of one event but of the role that women have played and still play in this project. Since my arrival I have noticed (and the technicians have confirmed), that the best bunches of bananas are obtained with women and elderly people. Women are best at applying agricultural best practice and packaging best practice.

Furthermore, their fighting spirit and their commitment to the project give me great courage. Since my first day, they have constantly supported me. When I feel discouraged, they reassure me - even if the project is ambitious, they are on my side and prepared to do their best.

Could you tell us what Rikolto’s major achievements were for APROVAG in 2018? What are you most proud of?

The most significant changes have been in terms of strengthening abilities. Different people improved their abilities thanks to training sessions. Our finance team was trained on how to use a new software program that enabled us to have a much more reliable accounting system. A team of technicians was trained on modern and more efficient production and irrigation techniques; the new sprinkler irrigation system that was adopted enables farmers to reduce their presence in the plot and gain time for other activities. And finally, more than 200 producers received training on packaging best practice through decentralised training.

We received support in drafting a business plan for a profitability study on the composting unit and we launched a study on compost characterisation in collaboration with the Ecole Nationale Supérieur d'Agriculture (ENSA). This activity will eventually enable us to produce better quality compost.

Also, Rikolto facilitated the acquisition of the equipment (irrigation equipment, 2 motor pumps, 1 tractor and 1 compost turner) needed to carry out our agricultural work.

Beyond the improvement we achieved this year in terms of professional training, one of the things we are most proud of from 2018 is the resumption of the packaging process in Sankagne in October 2018. The packaging station had stopped its activity because of a dispute between those involved (members of the GIE and APROCOP staff – see foot of page). Rikolto and Horizont3000, another partner, played an important role in mediation between the parties, which led to activity being resumed.

APROVAG put 250 T of bananas on the market in 2016 and 350 T in 2017, but with the crisis in 2018, only 126 T were marketed.

What are the major challenges for a successful future programme and what needs to be improved further?

One of the greatest challenges will be to raise awareness among producers of the great opportunity that the organic banana market represents. The way of producing has changed, and producers need local support to facilitate the transition from a traditional crop system to more modern production techniques, which goes beyond training sessions.

From a more practical point of view, we must also extend sprinkler irrigation across our whole scope of intervention. This will enable the producer (above all women) to spend less time on the plot, and to diversify their crops and increase their income. We must also improve primary transportation (between the plots and the packaging station) and secondary transportation (between the packaging station and the market). The second transportation is done with refrigerated lorries that preserve the bananas, and is a delicate and potentially risky operation. Insourcing these activities within APROVAG could reduce risks: having our own means of transport to carry the bananas from Tambcounda to Dakar, without having to depend on a third party.

Furthermore, a market research study with the aim of extending trade to the other regional capitals and establishing partnerships with large supermarkets could considerably strengthen and promote APROVAG.

Through your words and answers you have told me a story: who should hear this story and what is the key message that you would like to get across?

I would like to tell this to producers and all the decision-makers in this country.

Banana producers can significantly improve their quality of life with revenue from the banana crop. The banana producer’s profit margin is today FCFA 1774980/ha (2706 euros/ha/season). Several families have been able to send their children to school and sign them up for health insurance. However, there are still improvements to work on because some villages lack electricity or running water and the bad road conditions prevent easy access to the plots.

The organic banana industry is a source of work and income with large potential. It provides opportunities for integration to young people and gives work to several people who are not necessarily farmers (temporary workers, lorry drivers, lorry loaders, etc.). On one ha at least 5 people are employed. A 500 ha plantation would give 2,500 jobs to young people.

However, the production costs to produce organic bananas are higher, but the farmers don’t get a higher price, compared to the conventional bananas. Therefore, I would like to encourage the State to subsidise organic banana production and take the necessary measures to develop this market segment.

Banana farming can sustain its men and provide great benefits to the whole community. We must invest in this business that will bring benefits to all.

APROVAG started off as a non-profit organisation whose aim was to defend the interests of its affiliate members. For APROVAG this status is very important in political terms, but it is difficult to reconcile with the commercial activities that the organisation counts on to increase its revenues to reduce its dependency on subsidies, which cover 70% of its budget. Hence the creation of a commercial branch, APROCOB. The major challenge is to make these two entities professional organisations with procedures and duties that are accepted by all.