A large part of Africa’s cotton production is carried out by small farmers in the Sahel. This region is characterized by great political instability and in part by the advance of Islamist forces. In the following interview with a senior employee of the Cameroonian cotton company Sodecoton, who wishes to remain unnamed, it becomes clear what an enormous contribution cotton production makes to the stabilization of societies in the Sahel, but also to supplying the population with food.

Interview with NN, senior employee of Sodocoton

Role of the cotton company Sodecoton in northern Cameroon

Question: 4.9 million people live in the three northern departments of Cameroon. This makes up 18% of Cameroon’s population. These three departments, and especially the Extreme North, are the areas where poverty is most widespread in Cameroon. 46 % of Cameroon’s poor live in the north. What role does Sodecoton play in northern Cameroon?

Answer: Sodecoton has 200,000 cotton farmers under contract. Together with around 7 family members, that’s 1.4 million people who live directly from cotton, among other things. That is just under 30% of the population in northern Cameroon. Sodecoton supplies these farmers with seeds, fertilizers and agrochemicals on credit. When the cotton is harvested, the loan amount is then withheld from the farmers’ sales proceeds. Sodecoton is therefore de facto the largest microfinance institution in Cameroon and pays farmers an average of EUR 84 million net per season for cotton. The farmers under contract with Sodecoton also receive extensive agricultural advice from Sodecoton. In addition, Sodecoton employs a total of 250 agricultural advisors. Sodecoton currently (2022) produces 350,000 tons of seed cotton and 22 million liters of cotton oil, an important staple food. Sodecoton thus contributes 14% to Cameroon’s gross national agricultural product and 6% to its export earnings.

Question: Sodecoton is predominantly a parastatal company. 80% of the shares are held by the state of Cameroon and 20% by the Cotton Growers’ Confederation (CNPC). As a state-owned company, Sodecoton has a mandate that goes beyond the promotion of cotton cultivation. What are the other tasks of Sodecoton.

Answer: First of all, we maintain 200,000 km of rural roads, which can be used for the transportation of cotton but also for other purposes. Sodecoton also conducts extensive agricultural research. This involves methods for maintaining soil fertility, pest control measures (reducing the use of pesticides), improving seeds, etc. It should also be mentioned that Sodecoton is heavily involved in functional literacy. The farmers there learn to read and write in relation to the daily requirements of farming. Last but not least, Sodecoton also has a mandate to promote the cultivation of other crops in addition to cotton. Sodecoton also supplies fertilizer for the cultivation of soya, maize and sorghum, which are grown in rotation with cotton. Last season, Sodecoton provided EUR 9 million for this purpose.

In this respect, Sodecoton makes a double contribution to food security in northern Cameroon: Firstly through the proceeds from cotton cultivation and secondly through the direct promotion of food cultivation.

Question: What role does the advancement of women play for Sodecoton?

Answer: Of the 200,000 cotton farmers, 24,000 are women who are members of 1650 mutual liability groups that are liable to Sodecoton for the repayment of input loans. Sodecoton has also supported the establishment and operation of 70 women’s cooperatives. They are involved in vegetable growing, small animal husbandry and trade and therefore make an important additional contribution to family income and food security

Question: The extreme north of Cameroon has suffered greatly from the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram in recent years. These were also active in the cotton areas of Sodecoton. How did Sodecoton deal with this situation?

Answer: First of all, the spook is over. The Cameroonian army has largely driven out the terrorists. There are only a few cells left. During the heyday of Boko Haram, Sodecoton nevertheless continued its activities in the affected areas, i.e. supplying seeds, fertilizers and pesticides to the farmers and buying up cotton. At times, the Sodecoton consultants were no longer able to visit individual villages. The affected groups of farmers then delivered the cotton to the neighboring villages. Overall, however, Boko Haram tolerated Sodecton’s activities because they did not want to attack the farmers’ main source of income. The fact that Sodecoton continued its activities even at the height of Boko Haram has certainly contributed to the fact that the Islamist terrorists have not found more supporters in the villages,

Question: One conflict that runs through the entire Sahel is the dispute between cattle breeders and sedentary farmers over land. In Cameroon, the cattle breeders are also exclusively Muslims, while the cotton farmers are predominantly Christians. In some cases, this conflict leads to the radicalization of cattle breeders, who then find themselves in Islamist terrorist groups. How does Sodecoton deal with this conflict?

Answer: Sodecoton has been supporting joint committees of farmers and cattle breeders for many years with the aim of jointly regulating land use in the affected areas. Although there are always conflicts, this works relatively well.

Question: Sodecoton is certified according to the Cotton in Africa (CmiA) standard. What advantages has this certification brought for Sodecoton? What would you like to see from the certification standards in the future?

Answer: The certification has meant that we have geared our entire production process, right down to the ginning plants, towards compliance with certain minimum ecological and social standards. In some cases we had already met these criteria, in others we had to make improvements. CmiA certification has also given us an advantage in the international marketing of our cotton. Most of our cotton is sold at auction. You have an advantage if the cotton is certified sustainable.

We hope that cotton sustainability standards such as CmiA and BCI will provide even greater support for Sodecoton’s activities aimed at sustainably improving farmers’ incomes and living conditions. With more staff, we could significantly increase the number of farmers organized in cooperatives and improve their support. Sodecoton and the farmers’ association CNPC are also expanding the existing network of 6 cooperative banks in the cotton growing regions in cooperation with MUFID. At least another 6 cooperative banks are to be founded. With these banks, Sodecoton is gradually converting all payments to farmers to a cashless system. This not only provides more security for the farmers, it also gives them access to credit outside the cotton value chain so that, for example, the cultivation of food crops can be promoted even better. However, a certain amount of share capital is required to establish each new cooperative bank. Sustainability standards could help to mobilize this start-up capital. The importance of the cooperative banks for cotton farmers is also reflected in the fact that the cotton farmers’ association CNPC has a seat on the supervisory board of the umbrella organization of the cooperative banks.

Sodeocton and CNPC have also had very good experience with Farmer Business Training (FBS). In 5 very interactive 5-day courses, the farmers learn to understand their company and their household as a business, to optimize the choice of crops grown and inputs purchased. These FBS training courses have been very successful in the past. With the support of the sustainability standards, we could resume this FBS training on a large scale. Conclusion: Thank you for this interview. We have learned about the central role that Sodecoton plays in combating poverty and ensuring food security throughout northern Cameroon. Against this background, it is astonishing to see the comparatively small number of international donors seeking cooperation with Sodecoton.

Autor

  • Roger Peltzer

    70 years old, married, 3 children and soon 4 grandchildren. I studied economics at the University of Münster and then completed a postgraduate course at the German Institute for Development Policy (now IDOS).

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Cotton's contribution to the stabilization of a region

Roger Peltzer


[wpml-string context="pb-bioinfo" name="info-1"]70 Jahre alt, verheiratet, 3 Kinder und bald 4 Enkel. Ich habe an der Universität Münster Volkswirtschaft studiert und anschließend den postgraduierten Kurs am deutschen Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (heute IDOS) absolviert.[/wpml-string]


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