Co-ops & Human Sustainable Development: West Africa

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 This document has been made available in electronic format
     by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA
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     CO-OPERATIVES AND SUSTAINABLE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
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                REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE
                    WEST AFRICA

1.   Introduction

The concept of Sustainable Human Development is relatively new
in West Africa.  As a global concept, it has not yet become part
of macroeconomics, development projects, or policy.  Only the
international organisations, NGOs, and some economists or
ecologists have integrated it into their thinking, analysis, and
study.  Some political speeches and certain projects take into
consideration some of the objectives, principles, or
preoccupations of this new concept, but on a sectoral basis.

As we know, there is a large difference between speeches and
actions, between laudable objectives of development projects and
the practises in the field.  West Africa does not have its own
definition or approach concerning Sustainable Human Development. 
Nevertheless, considering the context and the constraints of
development in West Africa, one can certainly affirm that
Sustainable Human Development is a priority in this region.

2.   The Context and Challenge

According to the 1994 World Report on Human Development, in 1992
West Africa had a population of 206.6 million inhabitants, with
an annual growth rate of 3.2 percent.  Projections indicate that
by the year 2000 the population will reach 263 million.  Some 34
percent of this population lives below the poverty line in rural
areas.  Of the 206.6 million inhabitants, slightly more than 150
million have no access to clean water, sewage treatment, or
health services.  Furthermore, more than 50 percent of the
population is young.  Therefore, if the present trends continue,
West Africa will experience greater and greater difficulty in
feeding its citizens, in caring for them, in absorbing new
entrants into the work force, and in educating its children.

West Africa is also characterised by heavy migration from the
rural areas to the cities, and from the countries of the Sahel
towards the coastal countries.  In Cote d'yIvoire, more than
one-third of the current population is of foreign origin.  The
sociological, ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural
situation is extremely varied.  These differences give rise to
problems of integration which sometimes degenerate into conflicts
and violence (Nigeria, northern Ghana, Senegal, Mauritania).  The
effect of migration is also aggravated by conflicts between
communities (the Touaregs in Niger and Mali) and civil wars
(Liberia, Sierra Leone).

The region is subdivided into two very different climatic and
ecological zones.  The savanah, including six Sahelian countries,
is characterised by a dry climate with poor soil and insufficient
rain.  The consequences are: soil erosion, deforestation,
desertification, food shortages and sometimes local famines. 
Food imports and food aid are frequent.  In these countries the
demographic pressure on arable lands becomes very great.  One of
West Africa's major challenges is therefore to control its strong
population growth.  To meet such a challenge will require a
radical change in social values, birth control policies, and
introduction of programmes which reduce the work burden of women,
protect and restore the environment, and reduce infant mortality.

3.   The Economic Situation

With the exception of a few countries such as Mauritius, the
entire African continent is experiencing an increasingly serious
economic crisis.  The decade of the 80s has been described by
some economists as the 'lost decade'.

Africa's economic crisis is characterised by weak agricultural
growth, a decline in industrial production, poor export
performance, debt accumulation, and a deterioration of social
services, institutions, and the environment.  In sub-Saharan
Africa the average economic growth is 3.4 percent, barely above
the rate of population growth.

The crisis also has a considerable human cost.  In many countries
the expenditures devoted to social services have greatly
diminished, the level of education is dropping, and infant
mortality remains high.  With the application of Structural
Adjustment Programmes, states are devoting only a quarter of
their budgets to education, hardly enough for half the children
of school age.  The same situation exists in the field of health,
especially for women of child-bearing age (50 million in 1995)
and for children under five years of age (43 million in 1995).

The most dramatic consequence of this economic crisis is the
growth of poverty.  The poor spend almost 80 percent of their
revenue on food, at the expense of savings, education, and
health.  The economic liberalisation which has often resulted in 
an increase in food prices has had an important negative impact
on the standard of living of the poorest people.

In light of the severity of these problems, Africa risks a tragic
future if new strategies and concrete, sustainable actions are
not immediately put in place.  But given the complexity of the
problems, there are no rapid solutions or simple actions.

The international organisations are unanimous in saying that the
priorities of Africa for the next years are: strengthening of
human resources, development of institutions and of agriculture
in order to increase revenues as well as food security,
protection of the environment, small enterprise promotion,
community institutions, and the participation of women.

As these priorities are the same as those of Sustainable Human
Development, the concept should be translated into operational
strategies within the macro-economic policies and within
development projects in Africa.  But this new development
paradigm presupposes a questioning and a restructuring of
existing systems in the areas of policy, education, production,
consumption, division of revenue, the environment, and aid.

4.   The Role and Renewal of Co-operatives

In spite of the economic crisis and the very real constraints
that they face, co-operatives and other forms of self-help
organisation have played in the past, and continue to play, an
important role in the economic and social development of the most
disfavoured populations, especially in the rural sector.

In all countries primary co-operatives play a very important role
in the fields of agricultural credit, input supply, production,
and marketing.  In Cote d'Ivoire, primary co-operatives marketed
44 percent of the coffee/cocoa crop in 1989/90, for a value of
over 400 million U.S. dollars.  In Benin, 139 savings and credit
co-operatives mobilised $2,068,588 in savings between 1972 and
1991.  Even in Sahelian countries like Burkina Faso, 147 savings
and credit co-operatives managed to collect $1,200,000 between
1969 and 1993.

In all the Sahelian countries, cereal banks constitute a special
form of co-operative enterprise, assuming two important roles
during periods of food demand or shortage.  By buying cereals
during periods of over-production and stocking them in small
village stores, they permit the rapid supply of needy populations
as well as the stabilisation of prices in local markets.  These
cereal banks contribute at the local level and help to guarantee
food security for rural populations.  As food security is an
important part of Sustainable Human Development, the cereal banks
are contributors to the concept.

In the Sahelian countries, agriculture is only possible during
three or four months a year due to lack of rain.  Co-operatives
and village groupings, by providing small water reservoirs,
enable farmers to produce crops during the dry season (green
beans, strawberries, mangoes) which they can export in the
off-season to Europe and neighbouring countries.

The co-operatives and village groupings also contribute to the
creation of seasonal jobs, to the diversification of revenue
sources, to the fight against rural exodus, and to economic
security and human development.  

Reforestation and the construction of small anti-erosion barriers
are often the work of co-operatives and village groupings,
thereby contributing to the battle against erosion and
desertification, and to the protection of rural environments.

New forms of co-operatives are developing in order to protect the
environment, such as garbage collection co-operatives in the
cities and forest-worker co-operatives in Cote d'Ivoire.

In West Africa, women have always played an important role in
economic and social life.  Due to the economic crisis and the
application of structural adjustment programmes, women are now
obliged to undertake new income-generating activities, in
addition to their traditional role as main cultivators of food
crops, in order to meet the basic needs of their families.

In certain regions co-operatives have contributed to a change in
traditional cultural attitudes and practices.  In Cote d'Ivoire
and in many Sahelian countries, savings and credit co-operatives
have, for example, managed to change the attitude of husbands
concerning loans to women.  The same is true concerning their
right to speak and to earn income in many areas.

Co-operatives also contribute to women~s health. Many rural
co-operatives have reported that their income generation has
enabled them to purchase medical supplies.  As well, some
co-operatives have undertaken programmes of nutrition,
child-care, and health education as part of their training
sessions.  In Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Mali, maternity and
primary care clinics have been constructed thanks to
co-operatives.  In Benin co-operative clinics have been
established in urban and rural areas.

Co-operatives constitute a tested model of organised
collaboration which offers both men and women possibilities to
combine their human resources to increase their economic and
social power.  They are a form of organisation which women can
use in order to aid themselves.  With their democratic structure,
co-operatives offer women, as members and as employees,
opportunities to participate in and to influence economic
activities.  In this way women have access to opportunities for
self-help which they would never have had by themselves.

Co-operatives therefore constitute an ideal framework for social
integration, and for training and practise in West Africa's
new-born democracies.

If co-operatives and the village groupings did not exist, the
economic and social situation of rural populations would be worse
than it is today.  In the absence of agricultural unions,
co-operatives and other forms of farmers' groups are the only
organisations able to promote and defend small farmers.  In this
way they contribute to a strengthening of democracy.

As with all other sectors of political, economic, social, and
legal life, co-operatives are also faced with the need to adjust
and adapt in order to survive in the present environment and to
anticipate the future.  More than ever, co-operatives must
emphasise their role as private economic enterprises.  They must
earn surpluses for the benefit of their members through good
management and diversification of their activities.  

New challenges and risks exist for co-operatives, as well as new
opportunities, as a result of the current trend of economic
liberalisation and disengagement of the state.  Co-operatives
will be able to take advantage of these new opportunities only
if they are aware of the new environment, if they demonstrate the
will to change, and if they are provided with adapted, flexible
strategies, means, and institutional support.

Concerning the co-operative renewal in West Africa, one can
conclude that:

a)   Co-operative promotion must take place within a global
framework involving political, legal, economic, and educational
activities, all integrated in coherent and innovative operational
strategies;

b)   The co-operative situation in West Africa raises the problem
of the place of the human being as actor and beneficiary of
development, which is the ethical foundation of the concept of
Sustainable Human Development;

c)   The solutions to the co-operative dilemma are to be found
in:

     i)  The effective participation of  men and women in all
development activities.  The participation of women must  be a
priority.  Member participation implies appropriate training, and
an effective transfer of power from state structures, NGOs, and
development projects to these self-help organisations;

     ii)  The taking into consideration of the essential or
priority  needs of rural people in programmes and projects of
sustainable and self-sustaining development; such projects must
reflect the socio-economic and ecological realities of their
environment; they should not only call upon national human
resources, but also integrate the disengagement of the state and
the protection of the environment into their  operational
strategies and means;

     iii)  The freedom of populations to organise themselves in
autonomous and democratic structures which are adapted to their
sociological reality, to their geographic situation, to their
economic dimension, and to their technological level;

     iv)  The application of co-operative principles and values
along with efficient and rational management in order to meet the
competition in a more and more demanding, liberal market;

     v)   The gradual development by the co-operative movement, 
starting from the base, of structures such as Unions and
Federations which are capable of assuming economic functions,
offering audit and book-keeping services to their member
organisations, and defending their political and institutional
interests.
                                           August 1995