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A co-operative or co-operative society is an organized group of individuals who voluntarily come together for a common interest. Their activities are based on the needs of the members and sometimes those of their community. In Kenya, the members of a co-operative society contribute financially towards starting up the organization. After the society is registered, it can receive loans or grants. A co-operative society operates with guidelines and ground rules to ensure proper management.
In Kenya, the type of co-operative society is based on the kinds of activities the organization carries out. There are several types of co-operative societies, including producers’ co-operative societies, marketing societies, and consumers’ co-operative societies. There are also credit co-operatives that provide financial support to community members. Another type is the farming co-operative society, where small-scale farmers come together to jointly produce and sell their products. This includes the whole value chain, from inputs and labour to the final product.
Kenya’s Co-operative Act stipulates that a co-operative society has an open membership with a minimum of ten members. The maximum number is determined by the members of the co-operative. Members join the organization by choice, though the members’ interests are protected by the state in a registered co-operative. In other words, the state protects members against any kind of mistreatment.
This script talks about a farmers’ co-operative society whose members are soybean producers. The co-operative was started in 2005 and is still active today.
This script is based on actual interviews. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.
Chairman Alfred Mdeizi
Coordinator Chris Onyango
Mama Jacinta Anyango, member and project beneficiary
Mr. Ayub Mdachi, project beneficiary
Good evening, listeners, and welcome to today’s program on co-operative societies. Today, we will travel to the western part of Kenya, to a place called Stella in the Migori District of the province of Nyanza. Here, the Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society has overcome many hurdles to attain success. Listeners, if you have questions concerning farmer co-operatives, get ready for some answers today. But before we visit the co-operative, let’s have a musical break. Then our field interviewer will introduce you to the people who will explain the work the co-operative has done. Stay tuned.
Welcome back, listeners. I will first welcome the Chairman of Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society, Mr. Alfred Mdeizi. Mr. Mdeizi, please feel welcome and tell the listeners how your co-operative society was started and who started it, and the reasons the co-operative was started.
Thank you. The members of the Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society first came together in 2003 as an informal group. The group was composed of a core of ten like-minded people and twenty other farmers. Tobacco and sugar cane were the major cash crops in the area. But everybody in the team was concerned about the effect of tobacco on the environment and on health. We were also concerned about poor management in the sugar cane sector in this area. Farmers felt that the people who managed sugar cane only responded to their needs after a long time, or after farmers’ protests. Some farmers burned down their sugar cane plantations because of not being paid on time by the managers, who would not explain the reason for the delay in payment. Some farmers abandoned sugar cane without any idea what crop would next bring them success. The tobacco farmers were also crying foul because growing tobacco was hazardous. Also, tobacco farming depletes the soil. Seeing no immediate solutions, we sat together in my house and talked about how to move forward.
In your meetings, did you come up with an activity to generate income?
We contributed money to our kitty, but this was not enough. In the meantime, I had a friend whose daughter knew of an international organization called the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute, or TSBF. She thought that TSBF could partner with our group of farmers. So she helped us link up with TSBF in 2005. TSBF was promoting soybean and interested in doing field tests with farmers. They wanted to see if soybean would do well in this area, and which varieties would do best.
At the time, we did not have any formal structures or even an office. We conducted meetings in my home. The group agreed to register as the Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society Limited under the Ministry of Co-operative Development and Marketing. We then came to an agreement with TSBF and together we established field demonstrations for research.
From what you’ve explained, we can call you chairman cum founder of Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society Limited, right?
Yes, indeed. I spearheaded the establishment of the co-operative as I had already been involved in the farmers’ movement in Kenya.
Was it easy to convince farmers to switch from other crops to soybean?
It was not so easy. But the farmers realized that there were many advantages of soybean over the other crops. Soybean matures faster than sugar cane, which takes two years to mature. And tobacco is not safe both for the soil or human health. Soybean is suitable for household use, while sugar cane and tobacco cannot be used as household food.
How is the co-operative unique?
The co-operative is unique because it did not start with any money. Instead, it started with the goal of improving farmers’ livelihoods and helping them solve the problems they faced. Most co-operatives are formed in order to make money, but we had community in our minds and hearts.
We operate in seven zones. In each zone, there is a representative who reaches out to the wider community members. These, in turn, represent their local farmer members. All are soybean farmers.
Has the number of members increased?
Yes. We started with thirty, and we currently have over 750 registered members, with more than 1500 unregistered. Our coordinator Chris Onyango can talk more about this.
In all seven zones, we held awareness meetings, chief’s barazas and field days to introduce unregistered members to the co-operative (Editor’s note: A baraza is a meeting where issues and problems are discussed
). We also established farmer field schools where farmers who do not belong to the farmers’ groups can learn about soybean production – from land preparation to harvesting.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
One of the hurdles was convincing farmers to start growing soybeans. This was tricky and took time. Competition with the tobacco and sugar companies was stiff. To some extent, these companies visited the farmers and gave them all the inputs they needed. We did not have the resources to do this. So farmers who liked things easy opted for the sugar and tobacco companies.
Earlier, it was also a challenge to find funds to reach out to farmers who were not within walking distance. But this is easier now. The co-operative depends on sales to pay its staff. Extension is a challenge. We have over two thousand farmers to reach and only one extension staff to coordinate all the activities. I have tried to limit the number of outreach visits as much as possible by meeting the farmers in groups. This helps ease the workload.
It sounds like you coordinate a lot of the field work. And I suspect you interact a lot with the farmers. Please mention some of the benefits you have seen in the community from growing soybeans.
There are many. Soybean is a cash crop for farmers. Also, it’s suitable for domestic use, and so it contributes to food security. Apart from selling soybean as single variety planting material or mixed varieties for processing and home consumption, you can add value to soybean. It can be made into products such as soy milk, soy yogurt, soy beverages, soy samosas, cakes, doughnuts, chapattis and many other products.
Sugar cane takes two years to mature. Then farmers must wait still longer for the factory to pay them after harvest. By contrast, if you plant soybean continuously on the same piece of land, after two years you will have received more than three times the income you would get from selling sugar cane. Soybean also replenishes the soil. By contrast, tobacco and sugar cane are heavy consumers of nitrogen, and need expensive fertilizers.
You have talked about success stories. How visible are these success stories? If I were to go to the community, would I notice them?
I can talk of success stories that I see in the community. I see that livelihoods are visibly improved. Some farmers add value in their own households apart from the actions of the co-operative.
The co-operative supplies a school program with soy milk and yogurt. The program targets HIV-positive children. Their caregivers can testify that the children are stronger than before they started eating soy foods, which boost the immune system. Another success is that the co-operative is able to buy seeds from farmers right at their doors. So farmers are saved the time and money needed to travel to the co-operative’s facility.
It would be a good idea to talk directly to some beneficiaries about the benefits. After a short break, we can visit with Mama Jacinta Anyango and Mr. Ayub Mdachi.
Welcome back. The interviewer drove with the co-operative’s chairman to Mama Jacinta’s tailoring shop, about three kilometres away. The chairman introduced the interviewer to Mama Jacinta Anyango. She gives her side of story.
Mama Jacinta Anyango:
I am Jacinta Anyango, a beneficiary of the soybean program. I got engaged at the initial stages of the program, and I am also privileged to be the treasurer of the co-operative society. Since I started, I have been trained in soybean production, management and value addition by TSBF. I was most interested in adding value. Now, I not only help at the co-operative society, but I am also invited to bake cakes for some weddings.
I must be truthful and say that I learned to bake cakes through the co-operative; I did not know how to bake a cake before that, even with products other than soybean. I also occasionally bake cakes for people by request. I have earned a lot, as I am paid directly by those to whom I provide my services. Being involved with the co-operative has earned me a name and reputation. And it’s so easy to find me. Just ask for Mama Cake. You’ll find me easily if you are here in Rapogi shopping centre.
Mama Jacinta, do you think that what you are doing currently is enough? Does it meet community demand?
Mama Jacinta Anyango:
It’s not enough. That is why we keep on raising awareness through any meetings or forums we can reach. I want, if not everybody, then most people to understand how soybean reduces expenses in the household. Just from soybean you can make a drink for breakfast and have it with soybean crunchies, cake,mandazis
, samosas, or chapattis (Editor’s note
: crunchiesare fried soybeans and
mandazisare a kind of fried bread
What is the level of women’s participation?
Mama Jacinta Anyango:
It’s not bad, but males still outnumber females in all the seven zones that we work in.
Thank you very much, Mama Jacinta.
The coordinator and the interviewer then walked to Mr. Ayub Mdachi’s home. He had just come back from the farm. The coordinator introduced the interviewer and Mr. Mdachi, and the talk continued.
Mr. Ayub Mdachi:
I have been engaged in the co-operative for three years now. I had known about Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society before. But I only found out about soybeans when they promoted them in a sensitization forum. I readily agreed to start growing soybeans because I already bought soybean products from the supermarket, because I do not drink tea but soybean drinks.
I depend only on farming for my livelihood. But since I started growing soybean, I am able to pay school fees with ease. Today, I know that using soybean is cheaper than going to the market every day for bread. I can use a two-kilogram tin of soybeans for five days, at a cost of 100 or 120 shillings. If I were to buy bread every day, it would be ten loaves in five days at forty shillings each, which is expensive, about 400 shillings. Soybean is also more nutritious than bread.
You have an interesting soybean story. But one question, Ayub, have you experienced a difference with your other farming activities from using soybean?
Mr. Ayub Mdachi:
As I am a dairy farmer, I tried something that turned out well. I feed my cattle with soy okara (Editor’s note: soy
okaracan also be called soy
grits. It is the leftovers after making soy milk
). I have learned how to make dairy feed using soybean, a little maize and salt, which is better than the dairy feed bought from the agro dealers.
I have compared the two by feeding dairy cows with the two different products. I get 10 litres of milk per day from one cow when I use the dairy meal from the agro shops. But with soy dairy meal, I get 18 litres per day. I am a happy man because I can support my family just from one single crop, soybeans. At first, I didn’t know soybean could be used for dairy feed – and even poultry feed. But now I can confirm its amazing value. And this is in addition to human consumption in my home.
I know, listener, that after hearing these wonderful things from Mama Jacinta and Ayub, you might be interested in copying what they have done.
Chris, some more questions for you. Just listening to these beneficiaries, there are a lot of positive experiences. As a coordinator, do you have the knowledge and ability to train members in adding value and feed processing?
Yes, we have the knowledge and ability to train the members in these areas. I have learned a lot, and some of the farmers learned through me directly instead of from TSBF. Sprint Kenya Limited produces dairy meal using soybean, and through them I was trained to do the same.
What are some of the strategies in place to make sure that the co-operative is sustainable?
To help sustain the project, we have developed a seed refund strategy. Farmers are given seeds for planting. After harvest, they must return twice the amount of seeds they were given.
The co-operative is currently targeting southern Nyanza, which takes up half of the province, before we try to reach further and target the national and international markets. Also, the co-operative has committed stakeholders like the Ministry of Agriculture, TSBF, and the Ministry of Co-operative Development and Marketing. These organizations have been instrumental in the success of the co-operative.
Would you say that you are meeting the demand of your buyers?
Currently, we produce up to 60 litres of soy yogurt per day. But because there is demand for more, we are aiming to get a machine with greater capacity. Then, we can serve our consumers more effectively.
What are your future plans to help the project move forward?
We are currently using a normalposho
mill (Editor’s note: A posho mill grinds maize and other grains into flour
), but we are hoping to get a mill specifically for processing soybeans. We have already identified a bigger market, so we are not worried about marketing our soybean seeds and grains.
Obviously, the project is economically successful. We have heard how it increases income and reduces expenses. Is it socially accepted in the community, and does it have political support?
Yes, of course. I say this because there are different tribes in this area, in fact four who are actively involved in the project. Also, both men and women can practice soybean farming. Women are mostly trained in adding value as they understand the nutritional issues better. The youth can participate in every aspect, including production, management and adding value. In terms of political will, I have never heard of or personally experienced any misunderstanding with politicians. So I would say that they support the project. In fact, some members of their families are project beneficiaries.
Let’s keep on talking about this co-operative initiative that attracts people from different origins – people from all walks of life, this co-operative where people can learn that crops new to their communities can be grown both for food and as cash crops, and where they can learn farming practices which work for the good of all. Otherwise, may God bless you and please come again.
Thank you very much to Chris, the chairman of the co-operative, and everyone else that we heard from today.
Listeners, this brings us to the end of our program on co-operatives. Today’s co-operative was the Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society, which is based in the western part of Kenya. As you heard, the co-operative’s main activity is soybean production, management, value addition and marketing. They have worked hand in hand with the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute. Until we meet again, bye bye.
- Contributed by: Rachel Awuor, Ugunja Community Resource Centre, Ugunja, Kenya, a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.
- Reviewed by: John Julian, Director, International Communications & Policy, Canadian Co-operative Association.
- Alfred Mdeizi Sagwa – Chairman, Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society Limited, April 13, 2011
- Chris Onyango – Coordinator, Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society Limited, April 14, 2011
- Jacinta Anyango –Treasurer/beneficiary, Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society Limited, April 13, 2011
- Ayub Mdachi – Beneficiary, April 14, 2011