WHERE WE WORK
Start Year: 1989
End Year: 1998
Country Program Director/Coordinator: Dr Marcel Galiba
History and Primary Activities:
The Benin project began in 1989 as a satellite operation of the Ghana project, following a fact-finding visit by Dr Borlaug and Dr Marcel Galiba to the country in early 1989 for a meeting with the Head of State, General Kerekou. Benin agriculture was stagnating. Maize imports were at their highest level in 1989. Yields were under 1 t/ha. Little fertilizer was being used in the country, other than on cotton. Borlaug and Kerekou talked about developing a field demonstration program similar to the one in operation in Ghana, in which the SG 2000 staff based in Ghana would provide some training and technical backstopping. Marcel Galiba was appointed resident country director of Benin in 1991 (as well as SG 2000-Togo, which had began operations in 1990), where he served for the duration of both programs. Eventually, SG 2000 worked in all six administrative departments of Benin.
Crop productivity – Production Test Plots (PTPs) were the mainstay of the Program, and participation was generally not on an individual farmer basis, but rather through farmer organizations. Farmers grew about 38,000 PTPs over the Program’s lifespan, with 80% being in maize.
In 1989, national maize production and average yield were 424,000 mt and 885 kg/ha, respectively. SG 2000-Benin put into place a technology package very similar to Ghana: an improved, streak-resistant open-pollinated maize variety, row planting at higher density, timely weeding, and about 150 kg/ha of fertilizer nutrients. Average annual PTP yields were in the range of 3 to 3.5 t/ha.
The south of Benin faced a critical situation in terms of sustainable agriculture. Soil protection and the restoration of fertility had to be top priorities. Farmers needed to include more legumes in their farming systems, and it was felt that the use of velvet bean or Mucuna to fight speargrass (Imperata cilindrica) and restore soil fertility could be a much needed breakthrough. SG 2000-Benin gave high priority to Mucuna, from which edible Mucuna beans could be harvested. This crop proved to be very popular with farmers, given its multifaceted benefits, including weed control and the addition of organic matter and nitrogen to the soil. Some 250 production test plots (PTPs) and 30,000 mini-seed increase plots of Mucuna were established, leading eventually to an estimated adoption by 100,000 farmers.
Post-harvest handling – Post-harvest handling was also a high priority for SG 2000- Benin, as was the construction of adequate and affordable storage structures. The post- harvest program, fully launched in 1995, was expanded through the Ministry of Rural Development. About 1,200 PTP farmers received small grants to help them build various types of grain storage and drying structures to serve as training and demonstrations for neighboring farmers.
Microfinance – The SG 2000-Benin story in microfinance is an interesting one. In came about in search of a mechanism to ensure that farmers could purchasing the inputs required in the technologies demonstrated in the 0.5 hectare PTPs. Input loans were made to participating PTP farmers, but for a maximum of only two years. Once out of the program, many small farmers found it difficult to continue with the recommended technology, and usually drastically reduced fertilizer use levels (the most costly component of the package). One of the reasons for the larger demonstration plot size had been to help participating farmers produce sufficient surplus production to generate new income. This increased income was then to be used to cover the increased cost of inputs. But often the added cash revenue was not saved, but rather consumed.
CREP movement - mobilizing savings and offering credit in rural communities
PTP farmers had increasingly operated in more organized ways as local farmer associations. Literacy and organizational training programs had been offered to members of the farmers’ groups to help them better manage their organizations. In particular, group leaders were trained in simple accounting and administrative procedures. The idea of local village savings and loan associations (called CREPs – Caisse Rurales d’Epargne et de Prêt), controlled by them and dedicated to local service, was extremely attractive to them. SG 2000 provided training in cooperative action of microfinance institutions, and provided grants to build a local CREP office and meeting building, and to equip it with a safe. Farmers responded enthusiastically and the movement grew rapidly. All CREPs provided agricultural services to their members and some also extended social welfare services, such as medical care and primary education for members and their children.
Phase Two – In 1996, SG 2000-Benin entered into Phase Two of its operations, which was characterized by a narrower, more sharply focused range of activities. Efforts to integrate SG 2000 within ongoing programs of the Ministry of Rural Development were pursued. The Ministry concentrated on four activities during this period:
- Field demonstrations of improved rice production;
- Soil fertility restoration and maintenance;
- Post-harvest technologies; and
- Support to farmers' associations and rural capital mobilization.
SG 2000 staff increasingly focused their efforts on the Savannah areas of Benin where the tsetse fly was not a serious problem, which had allowed farmers to gain experience in using bullocks (local cattle breeds of small stature) for land preparation. These areas contained some of the most suitable land in the country for food production and land was available to expand the average size of farm holdings. With that in mind, SG 2000 promoted the use of improved implements that had been developed through a UNDP project conducted in these areas (the implements included better plows, more effective cultivators and harrows, and more durable and appropriate wagons and carts).
SG 2000-Benin also worked to strengthen private sector activities in both input procurement and seed production. Selection and training of private seed growers was begun and research strategies for both breeder and foundation seed was defined.
In addition, SG 2000 provided limited financial support to several institutions in Benin for research on cover crops, improved maize varieties (including QPM), and the use of phosphate to enrich Mucuna organic matter. Eventually, commercial production of QPM prevailed, covering 45,000 hectares.
Women’s groups benefit from the food processing activities being supported by the CREP movement
In 1998, the Nippon Foundation asked SAA to close 4 of its 12 country programs. Benin was one of them. The SAA Board, however, did decide to continue funding to a newly created National Federation of Savings and Loan Associations (FENACREP), to consolidate and strengthen the CREP network. As originally envisioned, FENACREP would provide a range of extension advisory services to CREP member organizations and their constituents. FENACREP took over the SG 2000 offices and had the use of its furnishings, equipment and vehicles. SAA made US$ 125,000 available to FENACREP in 1999 and again in 2000. By the end of 2000, FENACREP has succeeded in affiliating 67 individual CREPs, with a total membership of about 22,000 men and women farmers. FENACREP had also been able to attract financial support from the UNDP Microstart Program and CARE International, as well as a credit line from the Financial Bank, a private Beninoise institution.
In 2004, the SAFE program was adopted at University of Abomey-Calavi. The SAFE program has made steady progress in students’ intake and turnout of graduates and the collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture and the SAFE program in Benin has grown stronger. By 2011, about 50 students have been enrolled in the SAFE program and the graduates have been widely absorbed by the Ministry of Agriculture and the private sector.
SG 2000-Benin provided the government with a national food production strategy. Between 1989 and 1998, maize production increased by two-thirds, with half of the gain coming through increased crop yields. Fertilizer use on food crops became a more widespread practice. The work to introduce Mucuna led to its rapid uptake. Large areas that had become completely infested by spear grass (Imperata cilindrica) and were no longer farmable were reclaimed, and had higher levels of soil nitrogen. Promotion of improved technology for sorghum, cowpeas and rice were also undertaken.
By 1998, there were 50 rural savings and loan associations established (CREPs) in the country with 15,000 members and deposits totaling US$ 3 million. Loan repayment rates were nearly 100%. Access to affordable credit enabled an increasing number of farmers to invest in rice production using improved varieties and fertilizer.
SAA sent an assessment mission to Benin in late 2000 to examine FENACREP operations, including its agricultural extension program, services to members (seed, fertilizer, commercial stores, health care services), and financial governance. A series of recommendations were made to strengthen future operations. One serious problem came to light. FENACERP had been offering input services to its member CREPs, with fertilizer being the main commodity supplied. It had negotiated credit lines with SONAPRA, the parastatal cotton company, and HydroChem-Benin, a private concern, and passed these on to the member CREPs. A serious drought and financial problems within SONAPRA that led to delays in paying farmers for their cotton resulted in FENACREP having significant debt obligations (in excess of $700,000). The SONAPRA debt was under negotiation with the government and eventually was forgiven. But a fertilizer debt to HydroChem-Benin, of US$ 300,000 was still outstanding. FENACREP made a concerted effort to recover the funds (or take back the fertilizer) owed by CREP members, but the accounting of the fertilizer distributed and what was owed was unclear. FENACREP was unable to pay off the debt. It had also been unable to get its individual CREPs to pay annual membership fees or to mobilize more external funding from other donors. In 2001, SAA discontinued its support for FENACREP, given the weakness of the management. FENACREP essentially disintegrated, although individual CREPs continue to operate.