Urban agriculture can be defined as the utilization of small areas within and around cities for growing crops, raising small livestock, and processing food-related products, alone or in combination, for own-consumption or sale [1
]. Urban agriculture can take different forms depending on the characteristics (types of actors, location, products, technology, types of economic activities, and degree of market orientation) used for the classification, as nicely developed by Dubelling et al. [3
]. For instance, depending on the location, urban agriculture may take various forms such as home gardening, park gardening, and allotment gardening, which is the focus of our study.
Urban allotment gardens, herein referred to as urban gardening, may increase the dietary diversity of the urban poor by providing ready access to vegetables, fruits, and some small livestock. Yet, the degree and extent to which urban gardeners pool their resources, protect their interests, and organize their collaboration are vital to the successful and efficient functioning of urban gardening [4
]. Indeed, in many developing countries, a considerable proportion of farmers rely on agricultural cooperatives to govern their market transactions [5
]. Farmers set up cooperatives to promote, safeguard, and strengthen their oftentimes weak marketing position in society [6
]. By joining forces and becoming members and users of the services provided by their collective organization, farmers intend to increase the efficiency of their crop and livestock production. These cooperatives manifest themselves in particular contexts, usually in response to certain stimuli, for example, market failures, and they aim to achieve specific objectives and goals as defined by the membership [7
]. In that sense, cooperatives may increase the market’s share, the sale, the bargaining power, and the market information for their members. In the same vein, cooperatives may also reduce external shocks such as the hold-up problem, which may be induced by competitive markets, and the transaction costs in general. The cooperative model in agriculture can, therefore, empower producers and improve their quality of life and enhance their economic viability through social organization [8
]. The cooperative model provides a framework that offers scale to farmers, which brings associated advantages that would not be achieved if acting individually [9
Evidence shows that the two main purposes of agricultural cooperatives in developing countries are to enhance the market participation of smallholder farmers and improve their bargaining positions through leveraging collective action [13
]. Furthermore, Fanasch and Frick [17
] listed three advantages of cooperatives as follows: economies of scale, reduction of transaction costs, and avoidance of hold-up situations. First, due to its size, a cooperative can realize economies of scale because the members of the cooperatives can pool resources, which allows the cooperative to offer access to otherwise unavailable technology, as well as information and consulting services [18
]. The shared resources can be of any kind—such as technical equipment or buildings, reputation, or bargaining power [17
]—and the services offered by the cooperative can be typically cheaper for small farmers who, individually, would be incapable of affording these services [19
]. Second, cooperatives can significantly reduce their individual members’ transaction costs [20
], allowing more efficient bargaining when purchasing and selling commodities or services [22
]. Because cooperatives often purchase large quantities of raw materials or intermediate products, they are in a better bargaining position than individuals and, in turn, can often negotiate considerable quantity discounts [17
]. As a result of this advantage, the cooperative can increase profit margins for members by selling their products at higher prices and yielding higher margins because of lower transaction costs [24
]. Cakir and Balagtas [25
] showed that agricultural cooperatives in the United States were able to increase the price of milk above marginal costs. Third, membership in a cooperative helps to avoid hold-up situations that arise when a party exercises market power and distorts the market prices [26
]. Indeed, members of a cooperative can be assured that they will be paid the ex-ante agreed price [17
In African countries, attempts by governments to organize farmers into cooperatives have increased in recent years. For instance, in Ethiopia, agricultural cooperatives are accepted policy instruments for collective input purchase and output marketization for smallholder farmers and account for about 90% of modern input supply and more than 10% of the marketing of agricultural surplus in the country [27
]. In South Africa, the government signed into law, on August 2005, a new act to promote the use of cooperatives as organizations that could help enhance the development of small-scale farmers and other communities in the country [8
]. In Namibia, the government promotes the use of cooperatives as business organizations that can help in the development of farmers through the National Cooperative Policy (2012) and also assists in developing entrepreneurial, organizational, and managerial skills for farmers who are members of cooperatives [29
]. This is also the case in the Republic of Benin, hereafter referred to as Benin, which recently (December 2010) signed into law, in collaboration with other member states, the Ninth Uniform Act of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (entitled the Uniform Act Relating to Cooperative Enterprises, applicable to all economic sectors) [30
Despite this, compliance with the legislation among farmers in Benin is very weak due to three reasons [31
]. First, the legislation does not apply solely to agriculture, and therefore some of its provisions are difficult to apply to the reality of the sector. For example, the legislation is quite strict in terms of its requirements for the management of cooperative enterprises especially about establishing a board of directors, which can only be fully applied to a tiny number of producer organizations. Second, little consultation with farmers was carried out during the drafting stage of the legislation to consider their specific challenges, such as organizing a volunteer group to promote collective actions. Third and finally, there was a lack of understanding of the text by extension officers in popularizing the legislation and supporting farmers during the registration and implementation process. Solutions to address these challenges are possible (e.g., adaptability of conditions to agriculture, technical and institutional support, capacity building programs) but require the involvement of farmers, civil society, extension officers, technical and financial partners, and most importantly, the government [31
]. However, this is not an easy task. Following Gning and Larue [31
], support for farmers’ cooperations require information on how their members are currently organized and function within their organizations. Learning from Ostrom [32
], used a broad conception of cooperation for whenever groups try to gain joint benefits through collective action, we define cooperations in our study as not-institutionalized groups that join forces in a project, i.e., to cooperate as an act in itself. The collected information is required as a first step in supporting farmers to promote an incremental transition from current practices toward a cooperative enterprise rather than imposing an abrupt change to their current organizational operation.
Our research addresses the knowledge gap on how urban gardeners in Benin are organized and cooperate. We, therefore, aim to explore various aspects that might explain successes or failures in the organization and functioning of cooperative structures that prevail in urban allotment gardens. Our study stems from local knowledge on groups’ management to suggest optimal ways for collective actions in the transition from cooperations to cooperatives that can inform policymaking. We, therefore, conducted a survey among 261 experienced gardeners in two cities in Benin to elicit information on the organization of cooperations’ structure. This research compares our findings with international standards on cooperative organizations and the results of a literature survey to suggest practical solutions that improve cooperation among gardeners.
The set of cooperatives principles of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) provides us with a useful instrument to judge the level of organization of gardeners’ cooperatives. These principles are guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice in meeting their members’ economic, social, cultural, and environmental needs. They are universal and interdependent, and their application may vary, not just across cultures and traditions but also with the size, stage of development, and focus of the cooperatives [33
]. The seven principles are named as follows, respectively: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training, and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community [33
]. In the first principle, cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination. In the second principle, cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote), and cooperatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner. In the third principle, members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least some part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, at least part of which would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions within the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership. The fourth principle states that cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy. In the fifth principle, cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. Cooperatives inform the general public—particularly young people and opinion leaders—about the nature and benefits of cooperation. The sixth principle states that cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures. In the last principle, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.
In addition, we answer the question of how cooperations of gardeners function by comparing survey results with the salient details found in the literature. Finally, our research builds on the work of Cook [34
] about the life cycle theory of agricultural cooperatives to better inform policies on the current stage of evolution of cooperations and supportive measures. Cook [34
] proposed a dynamic, path-dependent five-stage model to assess the evolution of cooperatives. These five stages are named as follows: economic justification; organizational design; growth, glory, and heterogeneity; recognition and introspection; and choice [16
]. Stage one justifies the economic reasons for producer collective action: (a) attempts to improve low prices or to lower input prices caused by excess supply/shortage of the respective commodity, or (b) low/high prices caused by monopolistic/monopsonistic behavior emanating from market failure. In stage two, cooperatives that formed to ameliorate low prices because of excess supplies/demand historically were ineffective because of their inability to control or affect supply/demand without government support. Consequently, the agricultural cooperatives that survived have their roots in attempting to ameliorate market failures. In stage three, the surviving cooperatives, after succeeding to correct for market failures, modify their strategies. By trying to minimize their costs and invest in capital-intensive industries, in order to be competitive and thus better serve their members, cooperatives are faced with emerging and vaguely defined property rights challenges. In stage four, cooperative decision-makers become aware of the property rights constraints and conclude that they have three options: (a) exit; (b) continue, but modify their current organizational structure; or (c) radical restructuring. During stage five, the cooperative leadership chooses between the above options.
This paper is organized as follows. Section 2
reports on the methods used for this study, concerning the selection of study areas, sampling, survey implementation, and data processing. Section 3
discusses the results in the following categories: organization among urban gardeners, management, responsibility for common tasks, acquisition of urban garden areas, purchasing inputs, transport and sale of products, access to credit, and validation. Section 4
confronts the survey findings with the principles of ICA, discusses the functioning of cooperations by comparing survey findings and the literature and, finally, provides policy recommendations after analyzing the stages of development according to Cook’s life cycle theory. Section 5
concludes and indicates the future implications of the research.