Notes to broadcasters
In many parts of Kenya, farmers organize small, voluntary work groups in which members help each other to accomplish heavy farm tasks such as ploughing, planting, and harvesting. These community labour-sharing groups may also be organized for other community work, such as building houses and preparing food during a wedding or funeral. Community labour-sharing groups are also used as a coping strategy for families and communities which are short of labour because of the impact of HIV and AIDS or other illnesses such as malaria and TB.
Some development organizations try to build on these local organizations to carry out their agricultural extension work. In this kind of work, cooperative labour groups enable others to learn new ideas from those who have already acquired the knowledge. In this script, we hear an example of what some western Kenyan communities are doing.
There are cooperative farming groups or voluntary work groups in many African countries – indeed, all over the world.
Are there cooperative labour-sharing groups in your listening area? If so, you might want to interview group members and ask them about how the group works, what kinds of tasks are accomplished, and how the group benefits the farmers.
ScriptMusic to introduce the program (fade up, then under and out).
As an agricultural extension officer, I also work with small-scale farmers in another type of cooperative group, a group which has a business or economic objective. Many of the farmers I work with are subsistence farmers. These farmers lack the resources to support their farming enterprises, including seeds, farm equipment and agricultural support services. We encourage these kinds of farmers to join together according to their farm enterprises, for example as poultry producers or vegetable producers. These groups are referred to as common interest groups. In these small groups, farmers are given support such as extension visits, loans and training to help increase their production.
When we work with these kinds of cooperative farmers’ groups, the first task for an extension officer is to identify the farmers and their needs, and to organize them into specialized production units for training, extension visits and follow-ups. This is a long process. It might take two or three agricultural seasons for one group of farmers to come together effectively, because, although I can help, the farmers have to organize themselves. They are the ones who make decisions. The farmers all have an equal vote in how the group conducts its affairs. They must all contribute some sort of financial capital to get the cooperative going. They don’t wait for outsiders to give them money – they contribute their own savings.
The number of people in farming groups varies from place to place and depends on the people who have felt the need to start the group. But an ideal number for an effective production group is between 15-20 people.
These kinds of groups have rules that guide their work. The rules often cover membership, participation in cooperative activities, leadership and governance, and sharing of resources. The rules are made by the members of the cooperative, not by government workers.
Farmers agree on penalties in case one of them breaks the rules. A unique feature of cooperative groups is that penalties are set and enforced internally by the group. The penalties vary from cutting off benefits and suspension to disqualification.
This is how cooperative farm groups are currently arranged. There are some differences between how it is done now and how it was done some years back, the traditional way. In modern times, cooperatives are very much driven by economics, by the need for added income, and by the reduced cost of inputs available to cooperative farmers’ groups. In the traditional cooperative movement, in the harambee groups, the driving factor was very much social, the need to have enough food, the need to have a cohesive community. Traditional cooperatives were mainly formed around family lineage, a fact that is not necessarily important today. I believe that our farmer, Mr. Wilson Oduor, will agree with me. Modern cooperatives still have a solid commitment to the community and aim to do good work in the community, but they know that this can only be done if they make a profit, in which they all share and maybe some is reserved for community work. So it is a business, owned by community members, each having an equal vote. These kinds of cooperatives try to have both women and men members and voters to ensure gender equity.
Contributed by: Rachel Awuor, Ugunja Community Resource Centre, Ugunja, Kenya.
Reviewed by: Rodd Myers, Senior Programme Manager, International Development, Agricultural Development Specialist, Canadian Co-operative Association.
- International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, 1998. Sustainable Agriculture Extension Manual for Eastern and Southern Africa
- Special thanks to the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) Social Justice Fund for supporting this script package on the work of farming.