Innovative Service in Difficult Environment for Recycler Artisan

Douala, Cameroon

The program increases economic viability, enhances social relevance and guarantees environmental sustainability

The project “Innovative Service in Difficult Environment for Recycler Artisan” aims at shedding light on the question of artisanal solid waste recycling in the cities of Maroua, Douala, and Koudougou (Cameroon and Burkina Faso). Given the fact that recycler artisans present in these cities used to operate informally, they had neither economic support to develop it, nor social recognition and protection. The programme is a good example for integrated urban governance, insofar as it intends to have influence on the economic, social, and environmental aspects from artisan’s activities. It aims at increasing and making economic activity, guaranteeing its ecological sustainability, and giving artisans a status in the society. These goals were achieved through actions of different types, developed in the frame of a context analysis, a professional training programme, several communication initiatives, and an experimentation phase at the end. As a result, the programme made collective and individual interests coincide. The artisan could improve its own activity and become legitimised in his role as economic actor. The improvement of the local economic situation and protection of the environment are benefits of common interest for the local society.


City information

Size and population development
2011: 2,449,000; 1990: 940,000; 2025: 3,983,000; 2010-2015: +4.09% / year

Main functions
seaport and economic centre

Main industries / business
aluminium, textiles, processed products (wood, cacao)

Political structure
community council of which the president is delegated by the government

Administrative structure
6 townships

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Background and objectives

Urban waste management in Cameroon is neither organised at a neighbourhood-level, nor paid by users themselves, as it is the case in numerous African cities. On the contrary, it is organised in Douala at the urban community level and managed through a public-private-partnership. Considering the poor economic perspectives in the city and the fact that the treatment of waste represents a valuation process, some people, designated as “recycler artisans” developed their own economic activity in that field. They gather solid waste, transform it in a new product, and sell it. “Recycling artisan” covers a broad range of activities, among others gathering materials such as plastic bottles, rubber, or scrap, and transforming them into different objects such as barbecues or plastic woven bags. These activities are considered by local authorities as belonging to the informal economy and are neither recognised nor supported by public policies. Consequently, artisans do not benefit from any health protection or economic incentives. This situation had to change, considering the fact that their activity is both of economic and social relevance, since generating economic activity but also positive social externalities.

Therefore, the objective of the programme was to give recycler artisans a status in the society; helping them develop their work and improving their quality of life. Through a context analysis, the goal for political authorities was to better evaluate their numerical importance in the city and know with more precision their activity. The project aimed at making the profitability of their activity growing, by improving artisans’ competences through a training programme, and financially supporting the development of their activity. A part of the programme entailed communications measures, which intended to achieve recognition in the society of artisans’ utility. This recognition should then allow them to benefit from the same rights as other workers, including health care.


The project began with a context analysis based on personal meetings with recycler artisans. It enabled finding their number, location in the city, and activities. This investigation lead to a typology of recycling categories, a map of recycling sites, as well as a better economic and sociologic understanding of recycler artisans. The preparatory phase was conducted hand in hand with artisans, in order to better identify their needs in terms of technical support and professional expertise. Local university students took charge of conducting the study. By expressing their day-to-day difficulties, the programme made artisans aware of the challenges they face in their activity and how they could improve it. At the same time, surveyors gave them the opportunity to join the programme by giving them contact information, so that this context analysis also permitted programme appropriation by artisans themselves. To better reach target groups, this first action was completed through the organization of information meetings and the location of information points where most people belonging to the target group live in the city.

The organization of professional training was then the core of the programme’s implementation. These training sessions were based on a dialogue between organisers and participants. Several sessions took place and the following topics (among others) were discussed:

  • Better understanding of waste, waste management, and recycling activities,
  • Possible innovative methods to recycling activities,
  • Sanitary issues and potential dangers related to the activity.
  • Labelling the sector, products, and the enhancement of African heritage through the promotion of artisanal recycling,
  • Marketing and selling of products derived from recycling activities (including products labelled as fair trade)

The training lasted 600 hours, composed as follow:

  • 200 hours theoretical training with case studies, some on-site lessons and others online. Lessons were largely illustrated so that participants could better figure out explanations.
  • 200 hours of practical training
  • 200 hours internship

The training linked theoretical input with professional aspects. Moreover, the programme’s learning process was conceived to make the progressive independence and empowerment of its participants possible. The training programme and organisation was planned to make a large number of artisans participate and to be a useful input in their professional activities. The training focused on the specific needs and difficulties artisans face in their activity (improving quality, reducing risks, rationalizing production process...). Overall it gave incentive as well as concrete information and tools to quit informality and make their activity legal. Artisan’s obtained a diploma from the university Cà Foscari of Venezia after the training, which assessed their abilities and competences.

The training was complemented by a communication initiative of different types to make the recycler artisans’ activity more visible in society and improve their image. These actions were led in order to give them a social status and make their activities overall recognised as useful and valuable. The principle communication mediums were TV, spots, printed flyers, organisation of meetings, and an exhibition of artisanal production.

In order to better identify activities which fall into the category of recycling artisan, a label has been created, which helps valuating their activity and creating a community of labelled workers who share same interests. The creation of local artisans committees participated to the further reinforcement of their community belonging feeling and their interaction with others artisans.

The programme was also conducted through an experimentation phase in the end to make sure that aptitudes gained during the training would eventually be put into practice. The focus was made on 65 artisans who expressed the wish to formalise their activity. They could receive financial support to buy supplementary machines or materials that they judged as necessary to further develop their activity. Local trade platforms were launched to give them better opportunities during the all production chain and facilitate their contact with other artisans. Part of the artisan’s production could be labelled fair trade, what allowed better quality recognition of their work and better working legal conditions. The creation of new medical units in their working areas made their access to health care easier.

Financing and resources

The Directorate General (DG) Development and Cooperation – Europeaid – from the European Commission financed the programme entirely. The programme was implemented by local participants: students from local universities were hired, as well as professional formatives coming for most from the city itself. The programme entailed transnational cooperation; retired Italian artisans participated to a know-how transfer concerning the qualitative improvement of objects produced. The Italian input concerned for most issues of recycling process and security norms.

Results and impacts

The programme identified 160 recycler artisans in the City of Douala and 10 main fields of activity. The programme corresponds to a life-long learning initiative, insofar as it targeted professionals already having developed an activity and aimed at improving their competences in the adult age.

Results can be differentiated between the three main objective categories: economic, social, and environmental.

Throughout the programme, artisans could improve their competencies and the quality of their work to increase the value of their products. The creation of a platform created a new and better organised production’s selling network. Structuring recycling artisans' activities through common working methods by branch and formal sales channels contributed to the recognition of their various activities as a new economic sector.

Artisans obtained better social recognition and better social protection from the state. Their social utility could be assessed as plural, including the fact that their activity helps the city absolving waste management and that they perpetuate artisan recycling which is considered as an old African traditional activity.

Finally, their action contributes to environmental protection, because products are reused and not newly produced. Moreover parts of the materials they gather for their activity are not environmental-friendly (plastic, metal), so that they reduce the impact of their production by giving them a second utility.

Barriers and challenges

To conceive a training programme interesting to artisans and corresponding to their needs, the interviews first helped identify priorities. The approach was bottom-up and followed by a professional training during an interactive form. The constraints of artisans have been anticipated, so that the hours in the day when training took place corresponded to their availability in the day. So training took place in parallel to their activity and professional duty, that is to say during the week after 4 p.m. or during weekends. The training was free for artisans (most of them have low revenues), but they had to sign a training contract, in order to engage them and guarantee the respect of training’s purposes.

One challenge was to sustain the action in the long-term, so that artisans could continue to benefit from their training and give it a professional implementation. The label for the profession recycling artisan and the fair trade quality labelling of products were both thought to enhance programme’s benefits on the long run.

Lessons learned and transferability

Transferability has been anticipated through the organization of meetings with national institutions. Pre-analyse of the local context was one of the programme’s success factor. It allowed the training programme corresponding to real expressed needs in terms of knowing and know-how.

External links / documents