It is hard to imagine that the immense factory of COPAG, producing fruit and dairy products, has started 25 years ago with only 39 farmers who decided to unite and become stronger against the middlemen of citrus fruits in their region. Traders bought large quantities for low prices from small farmers and sold them with large profits to foreign companies to be transformed abroad. All the added value was produced there.
The farmers started with a storage unity, to help farmers and not to sell their products just after the harvest, when prices are low. This was soon followed by a fruit processing centre. In 1993, COPAG started in milk: milk was collected in decentralized milk collecting centers, checked and transported to a milk plant near Taroudant, to be transformed into yogurt.
On Thursday, the ruteros were invited to COPAG for a presentation and a tour. COPAG is a big company now, employing 5.600 persons in manufacturing and distribution and with a turnover of more than 30 millions of Dirham. It is quite an experience to walk around between big milk reservoirs, buildings with different unities of production and all the trucks and busses driving off and on. But the company still breaths the spirit of small producers. A large part of the terrain is destined for the production of cattle fodder: no need for a milk factory to have it, but a great service for the farmers that are member of COPAG cooperative.
This small farmer’s focus only became more clear when the ruteros visited one of COPAG’s 72 member cooperatives El Guerdane. This cooperative was created in 1996 with 18 members. They had COPAG’s support for the construction of a cooperative complex, consisting of a milk collection center, shops where members of the cooperative can buy tax free, stores for equipment (at the disposal of the farmers) and cattle feed, a school for the sons and daughters who did not finish their school but who want to continue the work of their parents in farming and in the cooperatives.
All the services provided by COPAG respond directly to farmers’ needs and have been initiated on the base of decisions by the managing board of COPAG, consisting of 9 representatives from different cooperatives. ‘I now really understand why cooperatives are the best structures to benefit the small farmer,’ says Tarik from Morocco, ‘it is the only way to give small farmers ownership in their organization. The learning route has given me the opportunity and the methodology to dig and look at the problem from all possible sides. It is a great experience!’
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