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Interview with Mr. Victor Deguenon, Houéyiho Garde

Mr. Victor Déguénon is 60 years old, is married and has 8 children. He became a gardener on 5 January 1972. He had already been elected President of the Gardeners Association in 1992. Due to the reforms arising from the decentralization, he was re-elected President of said Association in the latest elections, in order to contribute, in the light of his experience, to the development of his cooperative.

Aurélien Atidegla, April 2004

What is the main goal of your economic activity?

The Houéyiho Gardeners Cooperative is a services cooperative and, as such, aims at providing its members with certain services as supplies, training, mutual support, etc. The total area of the 15-ha premises has been divided into five sectors occupied by like number of gardener groups. The total number of currently registered protagonists in the location is 354, 54 of which are women. Promoting fair practices and solidarity among its members is one of the aims of the cooperative. Each member has a 1200 m² plot. If they fail to increase the value of their plots for no valid reasons, such plots are assigned to other people, since due to the great demand, many persons were not able to establish themselves despite the interest they had shown. On the other hand, we also see to the replacement of workers by means of giving young people the possibility of being paid for providing such services as irrigation, transplanting, soil fertilizing and preparation, row making-up and even harvest. We aim at training young pupils in alternative secondary activities. It is in this context that we receive many young people, especially during the holidays.

 

 

3-4- Are you engaged in a different economy? How does it differ from the dominant economy? If there is no difference, could you explain why not?

We are a services cooperative. As such, we order supplies, but each member works on his/her plot, the effort devoted by each individual to such work being shown in the results obtained. Therefore, there are many reasons why we practice an economy different from the prevailing one. In the first place, the cooperative is a dynamic system in which many family enterprises are gathered together by strong links of solidarity. There is no competition among members. A market for selling vegetable garden crops was set up to help support the centre. This market is mainly run by the gardeners’ wives along with other women living in the surroundings. At a group level, members develop an attitude of mutual help and solidarity through the creation of small informal mutual funds and, in the event of difficulties, of different forms of aid that range from working on the plantation rows to observing the agricultural calendar. Circulation of information takes place thanks to well-structured communication networks and by means of the observation of the location. This enables all the protagonists to be situated at the same technological level and also allows innovations to spread very fast.

Such fast spreading is possible thanks to the protagonists’ receptiveness and to the opportunities of exchange that they enjoy. The emulation of this attitude stimulates production on an individual scale.

 

 

5-6-7- What does abundance mean to you? Is material abundance an aim or the means to achieve something else? What is that something else?

Abundance comprises material and financial elements. Money is necessary. The more you have, the more you are respected and esteemed by society. Those who have no money have nothing at all. Abundance enables us to train those who will replace us, to educate children and to achieve things that will be useful for them. It allows us to spin an initial cord from which children will be able to spin a new one. What would they do without an initial cord? They would have to start from scratch again. In view of everything that is going on nowadays, it would make things more complicated.

 

 

8-9-10- What VALUES do you and your fellow workers put into practice in your daily life and at work? Is it possible, in your opinion, for these values to become the predominant values for society as a whole? How can they be mainstreamed?

CJH makes of the cultivation of honesty and solidarity the centre of its activities. Solidarity among its members is expressed by means of mutual support groups, mutual funds and by the members holding many informal conversations. Each protagonist’s results are closely followed by his/her fellow workers who are always intending to help his/her progress. Honesty, on the other hand, has the authority of divine law. Every member of the cooperative commits himself/herself to making it part of his/her habits.

 

 

Yes, it is possible for these values to prevail one day. In fact, they help prevent many social diseases of our time. Corruption would vanish if honesty and solidarity were established. The question is about individual problems that have a national scope. It is necessary for interest groups that offer an alternative model of development, such as cooperatives and associations, to share these values before such values can be promoted.

 

 

11- What innovations have you developed in terms of organization, management and appropriation of the fruits of labour?

As you already know, we are established in an urban setting and it is difficult nowadays to conceive practicing agriculture round a city. It was not at all easy to commit ourselves to this sector. Many well-meaning people gave up the undertaking just because of what people would say. At the present time, we have managed to prove that it is also possible to live on agriculture within a big city as Cotonou. Otherwise, how would servants manage to prepare salads to their rich masters? Where would they get fresh vegetables? I think we have achieved a great innovation: we are now able to offer garden produce available in all seasons, thus meeting an increasing demand.

 

 

Do you think working in solidarity networks or in solidarity production chains is important? What are these in your opinion?

I don’t know if we are already working in a network, but there are some exchange activities going on with other cooperatives. However, other persons’ guidance is necessary in order to avoid shutting ourselves off.

 

 

14- Does your activity influence the life of the community? How and in which spheres?

The influence that our activities exert can be measured at different levels. In the first place, thanks to our determination and to the results we have already obtained, many people have understood that it is possible to work the land right in the city. That is our first influence on community. Moreover, the cooperative has given new life to many needy families by means of increasing their purchasing power and offering them permanent jobs, and thus freeing them from the yoke of poverty and inactivity. Many urban women of Cotonou have been able to lay the foundations for a fairly dynamic advancement of vegetable garden growers and are now waiting for a boost from the State or other non-governmental agents to make it happen.

 

 

{{15- What is work in your experience? What is its value and meaning in life?

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Working the land summarizes all the possible meanings we can give to the word “work”: to reap what one has sown, that is to say, to devote your own time to do something good and to enjoy it afterwards. Working as a vegetable garden grower enables people, as well as those living alongside them, to live on their work, thus putting into practice the ancestral solidarity that used to characterize work and that we must revive. Work frees humanity from poverty, vices and boredom. But there is no point in it if it is based on dishonesty, corruption, negligence and theft, elements that are increasingly found in prevailing formal economies, both at a public and private level, since the participatory controlling systems are not working as they should.

 

 

16- What role do WOMEN play in a cooperation and solidarity-based economic initiative?

In our cooperative, women work in production activities as well as in commercialisation and family cooking. Their presence assures prudence in the cooperative performance. But they need appropriate training in order to be able to play their role in a satisfactory way.

 

 

{{17- How can public policies and the State contribute to the advancement of socio-economic progress?

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There is a lot that the State can do by means of promoting civil society initiatives and offering training and constant support to the protagonists. On the other hand, the State must set an example, something that has not happened so far.

 

 

18- Do you think that globalisation of cooperation and solidarity is possible? How can it come true?

Of course it is possible. What better contribution could we give the market than our culture? Our culture is rich in positive values. It will be necessary for us to make our voices heard so that certain conducts can be changed.

 

{Interview with Mr. Victor DEGUENON, conducted by Euloge AGBESSI, assistant to Mr. ATIDEGLA.

Institution: Houéyiho Gardeners Cooperative (CJH)

Town: Cadjèhoun, Cotonou, People’s Republic of Benin.

Date: 23 April 2004.

Contact: Houéyiho Garden, Cadjèhoun, Cotonou.}

Sources :

Vision workshop of the WSSE

See also: