Facilitating access to finance and strengthening the businesses of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the oil palm sector to deliver the much-needed services to farmers is essential for the sustainability of the sector.
Giving a professional outlook to SMEs
Since 2018, Solidaridad has engaged nine of such enterprises. They received tailored-technical assistance to structure their operations to give them a professional outlook. This includes training in developing business plans, business management, and preparing and delivering pitches to attract investors to scale-up and improve their operations.
The businesses — oil palm cooperatives, fresh fruit bunches (FFB) dealership, commercial nurseries operation, and semi-industrial mills — went through a selection criteria and expression of interest to determine their eligibility for support under the programme.
“Some small and medium enterprises continue to conduct their businesses informally, which makes them non-eligible for financial products from banks and microfinance institutions. Under the programme, our goal is to structure them to professionalise their operations by introducing them to account systems, management structures, and operational business plans,” says Sophiatou Colliee, programme manager for oil palm at Solidaridad in Cote d’Ivoire.
Engaging Microfinance Institutions to support SMEs
Solidaridad, in its quest to create an environment for financial institutions to support these SMEs, engaged some microfinance companies operating in Côte d’Ivoire including the ‘Union Nationales des Coopératives d’Epargne et de Crédit de Côte d’Ivoire’ (UNACOOPEC-CI), Banque Atlantique Cote d’Ivoire (BACI) and Alios to develop some financial products to suit the needs of the enterprises.
Additionally, Solidaridad organized two investment forums in 2019 and 2020, which gave the businesses an opportunity to interact and engage with the microfinance institutions. With constant monitoring and coaching, enterprises like Zakef, Société Coopérative des planteurs de palmier à huile de Divo (SOCOPAHD), Coopérative des planteurs de palmier à huile d’Ehania-Nord (COOPALEN) and Coopérative des planteurs de palmier à huile de toumanguié secteur aboisso (COOPTASA) have been able to access credit from the Banque Atlantique and UNACOOPEC-CI.
Hybrid oil palm seedlings to improve yields in Nigeria
Solidaridad has established 16 oil palm nurseries in four states to replace aged and moribund oil palm trees.
“Thanks to the business plan we developed with the help of Solidaridad, we succeeded in convincing the local branch of UNACOOPEC-CI here in Adiaké to grant us credit of 15m CFA Franc (22,923 euros) to acquire a weighbridge to strengthen our business operations,” says, Ablasse, chief executive officer of Zakef, an SME that specialises in purchasing and selling of fresh fruits bunches.
He said the new investments in the enterprise have been an excellent boost for their operations, and it is creating employment opportunities for youth in the sector.
Investment in SMEs crucial for youth employment
A study on the inclusion of women and youth in the palm oil sector in Côte d’Ivoire conducted by Solidaridad revealed that there are untapped opportunities in the oil palm sector for the youth and women.
To support the youth in making use of these opportunities, Solidaridad encourages the enterprises involved in the programme to recruit youth and women.
In this regard, Zakef created employment opportunities for five women in 2021.
Additionally, in partnership with the Public Agency for Youth Employment, the programme is providing internships for tertiary students at various small and medium enterprises.
The Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme (SWAPP), which is funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands and implemented in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, seeks to contribute to the transformation of the oil palm sector in West Africa, increase incomes of smallholder farmers and processors, and generate economic growth and jobs. SWAPP II is part of Solidaridad’s global agenda to build sustainable supply chains.