When Colette Nakpergou gave the closing summary at the Cereals Exchange on behalf of the Togolese delegation, her compatriots let out a loud cheer in agreement:
“The most important thing is that we cereals actors have to commit more in regional trade so that we can defeat road harassment not on paper but in real life on the roads and at the borders,” Ms. Nakpergou of Réseau des Centrales d’Auto – Promotion Paysanne told the 60 producers, processors and traders from Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo.
The Cereals Exchange in Lomé on July 20 and 21 marked the sixth event since July 2015, supported by USAID West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, the West African Grain Network (WAGN) and Afrique Verte International. Cereals exchanges provide a platform to negotiate contracts for grain stocks all over the region with new buyers and use more professional methodologies. At the Lomé Exchange, sector operators signed 30 contracts for 72,057 tons of grains and legumes for an estimated $18.73 million.
At this, her second Exchange, Madam Nakpergou signed two contracts with Madam Maïmounatou Ourou from Benin. She said the benefits of the exchange go well beyond the transactions.
“The first time, at the Dakar Exchange, I made a very valuable business linkage with a Benin-based trader; if our plan to do business succeeds, it would be thanks to your organization,” she told the Trade Hub. “This time too I have learned that the contract must be very detailed, with relevant clauses addressing every small detail, and both parties must sign their agreement about those details.”
Attention to detail on contracts was echoed by Samuel Annang of the Maize Growers and Marketers Association of Ghana, who has now attended four of the cereals exchanges. In Lomé, Mr. Annang signed three contracts for yellow maize and white maize, including one with a Togolese company. After reviewing the initial draft of the contract, the two parties realized that current rising inflation rates of the Ghana cedi would result in losses for Mr. Annang’s company, come delivery time. The parties introduced a clause into the contract to address this issue, successfully finalizing an agreement that protected all interests.
Mr. Annang (shown at front right in photo to the left) said the Trade Hub has been a dependable organization, as illustrated by a recent experience: “When some of my clients were exporting from Ivory Coast to Ghana, they got held up at the border by Ivorian Customs, who were trying to extract unauthorized monies from the traders before allowing them to cross into Ghana. So I called Trade Hub; they had their Abidjan office intervene and secure the release of the trucks carrying the product. Then the same thing happened once the goods crossed over to the Ghana side. Again, with Trade Hub’s intervention, Ghana Customs released the trucks, and we received the product without paying any monies.”
Through these exchanges, Mr. Annang has also established regional business contacts with whom he constantly communicates about market information on cereals.
Paulina Atongo, a grains trader from Kumasi, Ghana, arrived at her first exchange with her infant daughter, having to step out whenever the baby began to cry. But she was determined to get the full benefit of attending this event.
“I had to figure out a way of selling it fast,” she said.Ms. Atongo became a cereals trader unexpectedly after being unable to find a job even after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Education. A friend in the cereals business approached her with a business proposition — to help him source some grain product for him to buy from her. She successfully sourced the grain, but with no formal contract between them, he reneged on their deal and bought just a fraction from her, leaving her with tons of grain and no clue about what to do with it.
That was in January 2016. Today, Paulina buys large quantities of maize and millet, which she then supplies to processors, food vendors, and poultry farms.
“Business is good. It’s very good,” she said. “My goal is to become an international supplier within the next two seasons. I have learned here that understanding the contract documentation and the international standards and requirements will play a big part in being able to do that.”