Agriculture: Difficulties in accessing financing threaten sustainability of cooperatives in Tunisia (Study)

The difficulty of access to financing for reasons related to the lack of solvency or a lack of knowledge of the specificities of cooperatives by banks, is the main constraint facing the cooperative fabric in Tunisia, says a recent study prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the Tunisian section of the Tunisian-German Association for Cooperative Development.


The results of this study entitled “The cooperative model: a pillar of economic and social development in Tunisia” were presented to journalists on Wednesday at a press conference attended by Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, Mohamed Elyes Hamza.


In addition to the difficulties of access to financing, the cooperative fabric also suffers, according to the study, from the absence of a public structure in charge of cooperatives and a lack of knowledge of cooperatives by regional public administrations which complicates the procedure of their creation especially in sectors other than agriculture.


The cooperative sector also suffers from the absence of a specific directory for cooperatives in the national register of enterprises, difficulties in registering under the name “cooperative”, unfair competition from the informal economy and problems of poor management due to a lack of qualifications.


To remedy the problem of access to financing and others, Moez Soussi, professor at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Commerciales de Carthage and one of its authors, called for the establishment of a new financing mechanism specific to cooperatives that would be piloted by a body specialising in non-conventional financing, given that the role of the cooperative model is not only lucrative but also social and environmental.


He also called for the creation of a special fund dedicated to investment in cooperatives and to consider, in a second stage, the creation of a cooperative bank and financing associations bringing together the members of cooperatives.


According to him, it is necessary to adopt a clear political choice of reconciliation with the old cooperative model adopted at the end of the 1960s, given the changed situation and expectations of young people.


The academic also proposed the resolution, on a case-by-case basis, of the difficulties of cooperatives according to the situation and needs of each cooperative and to avoid global strategies involving the whole cooperative fabric.


Furthermore, the study recommended gathering the legal texts relating to cooperatives in a legal guide divided according to sectors and categories and revising certain laws, creating structures representing cooperatives, integrating the promotion of cooperatives in the framework of development strategies and plans and setting up a training and support plan.


The Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, Mohamed Elyes Hamza, emphasised the importance of this study which diagnoses the cooperative model, stressing the reluctance of some farmers and producers to join this experience and the failure of some cooperatives to respect their commitments to their members.


He believes that this study could provide a basis for broadening the scope of the cooperative model according to the principle of social solidarity in the agricultural and non-agricultural fields, to include cooperatives as well as popular societies and service companies.


According to him, this scientific reference will favour the elaboration of a new vision for investment in the framework of cooperatives and the improvement of their productivity.


For his part, Sadok Ben Amara, president of the board of directors of the Cooperative of “Agricultural Services Beni Khalled”, mentioned the difficulty of access of his cooperative, which gathers small farmers, to financing and its inability to compete with private companies having access to bank financing.


He said that the problem of financing has become a threat to the sustainability of this cooperative which once played an important economic and social role in Cap Bon, which has reduced the number of its members to 1200 currently.


Created in the 1950s, this cooperative specialises in the export of agricultural products such as potatoes and citrus fruits, the collection of milk at a rate of 35,000 litres per day, the mobilisation of agricultural inputs (seeds, hydrocarbons, plants, etc.), agricultural extension and fodder production.


Indeed, the cooperative fabric in Tunisia is currently composed, according to the study presented Wednesday in Tunis, of 443 cooperatives with more than 48317 members. These include 390 mutual agricultural service companies, 18 agricultural production cooperative units operating on state-owned land and 35 cooperatives in sectors other than agriculture (handling in wholesale markets, textiles, handicrafts, trade, etc.).


The agricultural sector alone covers about 90.88% of all cooperators and 92% of all cooperatives. The agricultural cooperatives exploit more than 16,000 hectares of state-owned land. The participation rate of women in all cooperatives is about 6.29%.


Source: Tap News Agency