Farmers organisations: the challenges of leadership
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Diallo, Moussa Para. 2005. Farmers organisations: the challenges of leadership. Spore 119. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Based on his experience, Moussa Para Diallo, an Agronomist from Guinea, outlines the qualities of the ideal farmers representative combative, open, with keen negotiating skills
Moussa Para Diallo successfully led his organisation in challenging the import of European potatoes which were threatening the market position of Guinea s excellent local potatoes. Based on his experience, he outlines the qualities of the ideal farmers representative combative, open, with keen negotiating skills What lessons have you drawn from your experience as the leader of a farmers organisation? - After 13 years as head of the Fédération des paysans du Fouta Djallon (FPFD), I am convinced that a farmers leader is first and foremost a man who takes on challenges he is determined to reach his goal, come what may. This challenge must become an obsession for him. That presupposes that he must first come to terms with himself as a leader, but without ever cutting himself off from his roots the farmers themselves. It stands therefore that a leader is not someone who spends his time travelling all over the place, being seen in the best hotels and only worrying about his per diem allowance. What in your view are the essential qualities of a good farmers leader? - His first concern should be getting work for his people. He must be ready to deal with all kinds of difficulties, no matter where they arise. He must never give up. Above all, he needs to welcome dialogue and have regular exchanges with other people, at the local, national or international level. A leader is someone who is good at organising, at adapting to difficult situations and at motivating members so that they firmly believe in what they are doing. But courage alone is not enough. He also needs management skills to achieve his goals, the prime one being the well-being of farmers. A leader must also prove himself to be honest and forward-looking and be at ease in a range of different settings. Once he has fulfilled all these conditions, he will be in a position to converse with just about anyone anywhere in the world, be able to put forward his own ideas and derive benefits from these experiences for his own organisation. A good farmers leader is also someone who knows how to fight for the best prices, from both suppliers and clients who want to buy products. He must be capable of defending himself and his organisation when it comes to dealing with political and administrative powers. However, he must keep his distance from politics and be careful not to take sides. Lastly, he must think about training suitable successors and constantly push the members of his organisation to get proper training. How do you reconcile demands for your presence in the village with the need to represent your organisation to the outside world? - I think one of the main problems with leaders in the South is that they are too bureaucratic. A leader in tune with his membership must be able to take off his tie, roll up his sleeves and only go into town when strictly necessary. Otherwise, how can he possibly hope to present problems about which he has little real knowledge? Some people occasionally criticise me for not being in town often enough. But really, my place is here in Timbi Madina. It is the farmers who have elected me to be head of their federation, not the city dwellers. I only go to Conakry or to Europe when I have to take part in negotiations. The rest of the time, my place is here! One must never lose sight of the fact that the goal of our organisations is to help improve production and marketing. So it serves no purpose to attend every meeting and conference to give one s theoretical viewpoint. A good manager needs to have a practical approach rather than being shut off in an air-conditioned office, far removed from the real world of the farmers. What is the hardest task for a representative of a farmers organisation? - Clearly, a leader will encounter a number of pitfalls in this job. The first hurdle, and one which he needs to address without let up, is where and how to find funds and obtain loans so that people can get to work. He needs to be a good negotiator because he will have to get credit from banks. And I can tell you that this is no easy task not in the least because the interest rates must be reasonable. Another big problem is the constant need to find new ways to help farmers with small plots of land to increase their output. Today in Europe, only 3 to 4% of the population is employed in agriculture. But in spite of this small figure, they manage to feed the whole of Europe and to export throughout the world. In Africa, 80% of the population practises agriculture. Yet farmers can barely manage to cover their needs. The great challenge for farmers leaders, especially African ones, is to reverse this trend. To carry out all these tasks, a leader must be prepared on three levels: first, he should have the intellectual capacity, second he should have the necessary experience and finally he must have the means to see them through. He must also learn to defend himself against unjust attacks. Here, people think that if you are a leader, you must be very well off. So you have to fight to get yourself and your organisation known. Some people even go so far as to create parallel organisations, just to sabotage your efforts. Any conclusions? - Development is a long-term process. So if you want to succeed you need to persevere and never give up. If you knuckle down for the long haul, your efforts will be rewarded, because people will give you credit for your achievements. They will show their respect for you and will back you up when you make suggestions. And that is the best reward that anyone can give you. That is why the struggle must be tough, and waged on all fronts . 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