By Guest Columnist Eric Rahman
Here in Madagascar, there are two primary voluntary business associations currently being advocated by the government and most development organizations.
They are a fikambanana, which translates roughly to “association,” and a koperativa, or a cooperative in which members are bound more tightly together, production and sales are often a shared venture and the objective of organization is almost exclusively the promotion business interests.
The emphasis on cooperative formation within the field of international development has actually been gaining serious traction in the past few decades. Even though the law binding the formation of cooperatives in Madagascar was passed in the 1960s, the organizational structure didn’t truly became pervasive until it was adopted by Madagascar’s socialist government in the 1970s and ‘80s, during which time it was heralded as a hallmark of production capability achieved through local socialized management.
Madagascar’s socialist era faded, as did the socialist stigma attached to cooperatives, yet remnants of the connotation still linger.
The main reason I’ve been studying the logistics of cooperative management is that I recently conducted a business planning and organizational structure training for my most important counterpart, Koperativa Taratra. There are eight members within the cooperative, all of whom are under the age of 23 and come from farming families. Taratra will be drying fruit and my counterpart, Prosperer, has just now finished constructing a new production facility for them.
The first morning of the training arrived Friday and Jean Claude, my best friend here and president of the cooperative, showed up at my house shortly before 7 a.m. so we could begin the hour-long bike ride to his village. I’d never run a training before but I’d participated in umpteen info session “camps,” “classes” and whatnot, so I thought, as is often the case at the beginning of these types of things, we should start with a few games.
Normally I find classroom games pedantic and borderline condescending, as if the student lacks the mental faculties to grasp a concept were it not repackaged so that the student could act his way to an obvious conclusion. I’ve realized, having now been on the other side of the teaching table that games say more about a teacher’s fear that the material presented might bore the pants of his or her students.
After the games, we had a short training on financial management, specifically record keeping, directed by our visiting micro-finance representative. We then sailed through discussions of marketing, clients, supply of raw materials, production cycles, sales projections and fixed-versus-variable costs.
I even had them working out discounting their assets in order to assure there would be appropriate capital to replace tools. It was remarkable to see the way an idea would take hold within one member and slowly ripple out to the other kids. Before you knew it, they’d all be jumping out of their seats, grabbing pens to write on the flip charts, working out figures in their notebooks and checking them against each other.
Ambohitrambo stands to reap substantial benefits if the work of these kids can truly take off. Being an almost exclusively an agricultural community, if the cooperative grows such that they must expand their sourcing of raw materials, each family in Ambohitrambo with the capacity to provide those materials will find themselves with a new market for their goods.
Ambohitrambo is already regionally famous for having the finest quality pineapples, and value-added production, such as fruit drying, holds the potential to make this small farming community a national name.
Until next time, veloma.
Eric Rahman is a Community Economic Development Peace Corps Volunteer in Arivonimamo, Madagascar. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.