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Many heads are better than one: The story of Ngolowindo Co-operative

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Presenter: Welcome, listener, to (name of program), which comes to you every (name of day) on your radio station. As usual you are with me, (name of broadcaster).
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Presenter: Dear listeners, today we have the true story of Ngolowindo Co-operative, or the “ever smiling tomato,” as the co-operative is known. The story covers the co-operative’s coming into being, the mountains it is climbing, and the main strengths that contributed to its success. What are some of the problems the co-operative members have survived in the past 27 years? Are they going to survive the serious challenges they are facing? These are the questions we will explore in our program today.

(Pause) Ngolowindo is situated in the Central Region of Malawi, about 10 kilometres east of Salima. I have visited Ngolowindo Co-operative a number of times. It is an enterprising co-operative, with a lot of resources and potential, some of which you will hear about during the following interview. Let me hand you over to our reporter, who will chat with the president of the co-operative.

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Reporter: Greetings, Madam. I am Gladson Makowa. I would like to talk with you to learn about your co-operative. Could you kindly introduce yourself?

Eluby: My name is Eluby Tseke.

Reporter: What position do you hold in the Ngolowindo Co-operative?

Eluby: I am the president of the Ngolowindo Co-operative.

Reporter: When did Ngolowindo start?

Eluby: As an irrigation scheme, it started in 1984. But as a co-operative, it started in 2001.

Reporter: How did the irrigation scheme start?

Eluby: It came together like any other development project that governments implement. It started with the District Assembly. The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, as it was called in those years, started the project. They visited the Traditional Authority to brief him, and then they briefed all village headmen about the project. The European Union contributed some money and the Government of Malawi managed the project.

Reporter: How did the idea of growing into a co-operative come about?

Eluby: In 1998, the Department of Irrigation handed over the irrigation scheme to the people. So we continued working on our own. Then we received some visitors from Bunda College. After seeing how hard-working and united we were, they advised us to transform our project into either a co-operative or an association. They advised us to call the Ministry of Industry and Trade and ask them to come and teach us about co-operatives and associations.

Reporter: What did you choose?
Eluby: We chose to be a co-operative. We had heard that a co-operative is a group which is formed by people according to their own wishes, with everyone’s needs and problems being treated equally. Members of a co-operative contribute finances together as capital, and put together their mind, interest and time. Whether the co-operative makes a profit or loss, they all share. So the people unanimously voted to become a co-operative.

Reporter: What is the secret behind your co-operative’s success and your group’s long life of more than 25 years?

Eluby: The organization has stayed together this long because it fulfills the needs of the people. Also, we have different committees which look after different issues in the co-operative.

Reporter: What are these committees?

Eluby: We have a management committee, and under this we have sub-committees such as irrigation, marketing, discipline, credit, education, and asset sub-committees.

Reporter: What are the duties of these sub-committees?

Eluby: The assets sub-committee looks after all the co-operative’s tools and equipment. It rents out tools and makes sure that all equipment is returned. The discipline sub-committee enforces rules and order among the members.

Reporter: What rules do you have in the co-operative?

Eluby: Thou shall not steal. If found stealing, members are dismissed. Thou shall not commit adultery. We are trying to prevent the spread of the HIV and AIDS pandemic among members. We make sure that no one is found having sex with a fellow member in the group. If you are found in this act, you are dismissed.

Reporter: Do you mean that marrying a fellow member is prohibited?

Eluby: No. But we do not want promiscuity in our group. If a married man is found with an unmarried or married woman, both are dismissed. Or if a married woman is found with another married man or an unmarried man, they are dismissed. We do not want the co-operative to be a source of HIV and AIDS or to end people’s marriages.

Reporter: Do people like these rules?

Eluby: Yes, they are happy. And they are the ones who made these rules. These are some of the rules that sustain our co-operative.

Reporter: What is the duty of the marketing sub-committee?

Eluby: The marketing sub-committee buys the crops which the co-operative members grow, and then sells them to our markets.

Reporter: How does the sub-committee find markets?

Eluby: Markets are sometimes found before we start farming, and sometimes when the crops are about to mature. We agree before the farming season starts on how much land and how much quantity of each crop we will grow, and who shall buy from us.

Reporter: Other farmers are finding it difficult to find markets. How do you manage?

Eluby: We manage because many major buyers are familiar with us. They know us and they know that we produce very good quality fruits and vegetables.

Reporter: Are there any differences between farmers who are co-operative members and those who are not members?

Eluby: Oh yes, there are many differences. Members receive good profits, which help them to buy and sustain their homes. Sometimes we have poor rains and people harvest less food in a year and have no money. When this happens, we are able to support them to plant and grow more food and earn money by using a fund which consists of profits made from selling winter crops,

Reporter: If a member fails to produce enough in the winter cropping season due to unforeseen problems, do you have insurance that covers such problems?

Eluby: We have never had problems to the extent that farmers default on loan payments. They always manage to pay back all loans.

Reporter: Oh, so you have loans and credit!

Eluby: Yes. The credit committee manages loans. This committee distributes loans and collects the repayments from members.

Reporter: What kind of loans?

Eluby: The co-operative buys inputs in bulk to benefit from quantity discounts. Then it gives these inputs to our members as a loan. We deduct the loan repayments during harvest time. We also give loans to purchase electricity to pump water. We installed electrical pumps under the ground to pump out water. The co-op must pay the water charges every month. This electricity charge for pumping water is also deducted from farmers as a loan repayment.

Reporter: How do you collect the money to pay for electricity?

Eluby: We charge per ridge. We plan every year how many hectares we are going to assign to each and every crop. For example, if we plan to grow two hectares of tomatoes, we charge a fixed amount of money per ridge. Each ridge is 100 metres long.

Reporter: How much is the electricity charge per ridge?

Eluby: Currently, we charge 650 Malawian kwacha per ridge, which is about four US dollars per ridge.

Reporter: Earlier when I came to visit Ngolowindo, you told me that your major problem was the high cost of electricity. How are things now with electricity charges?

Eluby: High electricity tariffs are still our major problem. We are still requesting the government to promptly finish the negotiations with the electricity supplier so that we can receive a subsidy on electricity prices. Our bills are still very high.

Reporter: How much do you pay per month?

Eluby: When we use only one pump, we pay about 125,000 kwacha per month (Editor’s note: approximately $US820).

Reporter: How much per month do you collect from the members?

Eluby: We do not collect per month but per harvest, about every three months for irrigated crops. Irrigated crops are harvested every three months during the dry season. Then, we collect not less than 300,000 kwacha per harvest (Editor’s note: approximately $US2000).

Reporter: Is 300,000 kwacha enough to pay for the entire electricity bill?

Eluby: This is not enough. We manage to pay for the whole electricity bill only when we grow high-value crops like tomatoes. But we lose money when we use these pumps to water maize. Maize does not give high returns compared to high-value crops like tomatoes.

Reporter: The co-operative has lasted for a long time without collapsing from these high electricity tariffs. Who supports you?

Eluby: With the help of the government, we are still negotiating with the company that supplies the electricity. The electricity supply company is saying that we should enter into an agreement. They say that they can charge us a reduced rate if we agree to use electricity at night only.

Reporter: When are you going to sign this agreement?

Eluby: We are waiting for the Department of Irrigation to finish the negotiations on our behalf.

Reporter: Do you have any employees to whom you pay a salary?

Eluby: Yes, we have a number of them – a driver, a cashier, a stores clerk, and two watchmen.

Reporter: If you have a driver, it means you have a car. How did you obtain it?

Eluby: There was an Italian non-governmental organization between 2002 and 2004 called Co-operation for the Development of Emerging Countries, which was funded by the European Union. The project provided a pick-up truck for us.
Reporter: What else did this NGO help you with?

Eluby: They bought us the vehicle; they built a storage warehouse, a cold room, dug one well and installed a pump. They enlarged the water storage tank and expanded the area of irrigated plots with canals from 14 hectares to 17. They also trained us for six months on co-operative management. The project lasted for three years.

Reporter: How do you make sure that your water expenditures are in line with your income?

Eluby: We collect the money from farmers during the time when the crops are sold. Usually, we agree on the buying price with members before they grow the crops. The price at which we buy their crops is set by the co-operative. The price is a bit lower than our real market price. That’s because the funds that the co-operative uses to pay its employees and other overhead costs are deducted off the top. We also deduct the cost of electricity, inputs and other purchases off the top.

Reporter: Can you give us an example of the prices you pay farmers and your selling prices at other markets?

Eluby: Our selling prices depend on demand at the market. But we try to make sure that we sell at a higher price than the other traders. For example, if we have a market which buys from us at 80 kwacha per kilogram, we might buy from the farmer at 60 kwacha. We buy using a weighing scale and pay per kilogram, while other small traders just guess the prices. Farmers know that we are fairer than the other vendors. We do not bargain; we have fixed prices. We buy everything from our members and then plan what to do with the crops later. Other vendors just buy enough for themselves, as much as they can manage.

Reporter: You talked about farmer loans. How different are your loans from other bank loans?

Eluby: We buy things in bulk and cheaply. At that cheap buying price, we charge 15% interest, while the banks charge between 25 and 35%. Mind you, we only give loans to our members.

Reporter: Are the members benefiting from this deal?

Eluby: The farmers are happy. Some have built houses, bought livestock, paid for secondary school fees for their children and other dependents, and enjoyed many more benefits.

Reporter: If people are indeed enjoying the membership, how many members do you have?

Eluby: We are 145 members, and we have 25 applicants whose applications we are scrutinizing.

Reporter: What qualifications do you look for in a member?

Eluby: We do not want those who have been convicted of theft, or those who suffer from epilepsy. We have a water tank which is always open and we have big water canals, so we do not want any accidents with people with epilepsy. We want hard-working people. We know them, because they are the people with whom we live in our villages.
Reporter: If members have lost their loved ones and have a problem, how are they supported?

Eluby: We have a social welfare account to which all members contribute. This account helps those who have big problems, like the funeral of a close relative such as a child, husband or wife.  We have both Christian and Muslim members. We support members according to their faith.

Reporter: What are the major problems which the co-operative is facing?

Eluby: Currently, all three pumps in our three wells are down. Therefore, this year we have not yet seriously started irrigated farming. We have planted, but there is a shortage of water because the irrigation pumps are broken. We are still searching for new pumps. This is the scariest problem that we have ever faced. Remember that we spend much of our income on high electricity tariffs, and we are still negotiating with the electricity supplier to reduce these charges. Also, we do not have stable buyers who can purchase all of our products. We have some buyers, but we need more markets. And the markets which we have found do not offer opportunities for contract farming. Those are our major problems.

Reporter: If you have not seriously started farming this year, what will you do to make sure that you grow some winter crops?

Eluby: We took the pumps to electricians and mechanics, but they told us that they are worn out completely, and that we just need to replace them. We want to buy new ones before the irrigation season ends. We are still discussing this in our group.

Reporter: The government buys pumps for other small-scale farmers … how has it helped you?

Eluby: They have not yet helped us. Maybe they are still looking at how they can help.

Reporter: How much do pumps cost at the market?

Eluby: A small durable pump sells for 300,000 kwacha ($US2000). Big ones like the ones which we use sell for around 800,000 kwacha (US5250).

Reporter: Are you going to grow any irrigated crops this year?

Eluby: Our winter season starts in February. We planted tomatoes in February, but they have not done well because of the water shortage. Right now, we are still coming up with ways to find a pump.

Reporter: Do you have sufficient funds in the account of your co-operative to survive?

Eluby: I will not reveal the amount, but the co-operative is not ending. We are still meeting and coming up with ways to sort out the water pump problem. We will try to negotiate with some companies to pay a deposit and pay the rest later. That is one of the options we have.

Reporter: But at least you have enough money to pay the deposit to a company – is that correct?

Eluby: The money we have is enough to pay a deposit for a smaller pump, but we feel that is not a good choice for a big garden like ours. We need a bigger one. That is why I say we are still looking for other options.

Reporter: Can fuel pumps work?

Eluby: No, not at all. They cannot do the work we need. Our wells are 70 metres deep, so the fuel pumps cannot manage it. Even if they could, they might be more expensive to run.

Reporter: Finally, what are you going to do to make sure that Ngolowindo, the ever smiling tomato, continues to smile, as your motto says?

Eluby: I just encourage all the members to remain united, and contribute to the purchase of the needed pump, so we can continue enjoying the good life which we have been enjoying. I also call upon well-wishers to help us in this problem.

Reporter: Thank you for sparing this time for us. Today we have heard and learned from Mrs. Eluby Tsekwe of Ngolowindo Co-operative in Salima, Malawi on what is involved in running co-operatives, and about the advantages and some of the challenges which they face.

Do not forget that in co-operatives you share ideas, gains and losses. As old wise men say, many heads are better than one, and it is better to join a group where you can learn something. Form clubs and improve your bargaining power and knowledge. You were with me, your reporter, Gladson Makowa.

Amizero Co-operative helps Rwandan households manage domestic waste

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Host: Dear friends and listeners of Radio Salus, hello and welcome to today’s show, a show that talks, as usual, about the environment. The title of today’s show is: “Women earn a living by helping households manage domestic waste.” In this show, we are going to talk about how women in the Amizero Association are making efforts to manage household waste in the city of Kigali. We are also going to talk about how this household waste management project allows women from Amizero to earn their living. The show is prepared and presented by Jean Paul Ntezimana. Stay tuned!

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Host: Dear listeners, more than half of the Rwandan population are women. Women take care of the family in many ways. These women include widows, heads of families, women with physical disabilities and traumatized women, healthy women, and women from all walks of life. But not all women have the same economic capacity. Today’s show talks about women who earn their living by helping households manage domestic waste. We will be talking with members of the Amizero Association Co-operative’s Abakunda isuku group. Abakunda isukumeans, “those who like cleanliness and hygiene.”

But before speaking to the members of the Amizero Association in the field, we will hear from Floride Mukarubuga, the President of Amizero Association. Mrs. Mukarubuga also founded Abakunda Isuku and other co-operatives. She tells us briefly about the Amizero Association.

Floride: The Amizero Association is a not-for-profit group founded even before the 1994 genocide. Our objective is to provide assistance to all kinds of women in distress – genocide widows, AIDS widows, all kinds of women in distress.

Because our beneficiaries are very numerous, we formed groups to better organize the activities that women can do to help themselves. We have many groups. We trained them in agriculture, in braiding hair, in wicker work, in small business, and in the management of domestic waste.

We also thought that it would be a good idea to supervise the women’s children in the absence of their mothers. Women used to go to work but their children stayed at home. It was a problem. So we created a supervision centre for our beneficiaries’ children.

Fade in background voices, hold for 10 seconds, then fade and hold under: Take, wait, ok, pass me another bag, there, oh it’s heavy … 

Host: We are in Kacyiru, a neighbourhood in the city of Kigali. Bags of domestic waste lie in piles along the street. Women and girls come and add other bags to the piles. Flies circulate amongst the bags. About a hundred metres away, a truck is parked and intense activities are happening around it.

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Host: A lady about forty years old is supervising the work. Her name is Mrs. Kantengwa Marianne.

Marianne: The person in charge of hygiene here in Kacyiru invited us to come and help them load this domestic waste onto the truck and take it to the main dump in Kigali. I don’t know if we’re going to finish today because they have a lot of waste. I’ve heard that it’s been a while since they have rid their households of this waste.

Host: Mrs. Marianne, why are you working with domestic waste?

Marianne: It’s about fighting dirt, it’s about hygiene, and it’s about health! We thought about this project way back, and started around the year 2001, when we saw hygiene problems here in the city. At that time, we started a waste management project in the district of Nyarugenge. Cleaning up households involves a combination of activities: participating in the clean-up of the city, transforming waste into fuel so that inhabitants no longer cut trees for firewood and destroy the forests, and finding compost to fertilize our gardens in the valley of Kicukiro district, here in Kigali. Amizero has been making little bricks from domestic waste to replace the wood used for cooking fires. All this is meant to improve our living conditions.

Host: You have many projects! Are all these projects still ongoing?

Marianne: It’s not easy! With the 2005 national law on safeguarding the environment, the district confiscated the plots that women owned in the valley. So, making manure for fertilizer has slowed down and stopped. Today, we have a Belgian researcher who is studying how we can improve the production of household fuel from waste so that we can almost completely replace the use of firewood. We have improved how we transport domestic waste. As you can see, we’re using a truck, and it’s our truck!

Host: How important is this job for you, Marianne, personally?

Marianne: Where can I start? This is the only job I’ve ever had. I have three children, and this job helped me educate my children. Two of them are in secondary school; the other one has already completed his secondary school education.

This job helps me build and support my family. My family doesn’t suffer from poverty like before. I have also learned how to discuss things with others. I’m not shy about speaking out anymore. Discussing things is very important. I get a lot of advice from discussions with the other women. I’m not alone anymore.

In the past, I don’t know if I could say that I had any income. When we started the project, I had a monthly income of 10,000 Rwandan francs (Editor’s note: about $US17). Today, because we experienced spectacular growth, I earn 25,000 francs (about $US42). That’s quite something for me!

Host: Thank you, Marianne. But before letting you go back to your work, do you have something more to say about the importance of this work?

Marianne: Really, I don’t know how to talk about it – it’s so important. I told you that in the past I had no income, and today I get some. Also, I have health insurance, and I have been trained in several areas: health, family management, and family planning.

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Host: Dear listeners of Radio Salus, you’re listening to our show on the environment. The title of our program today is: “Women earn a living by helping households manage domestic waste.” We are with the members of the co-operative Abakunda isuku, a branch of the Amizero Association. A big thank you to Marianne! Since she’s leaving us to continue her work, we will take this opportunity to speak to the people of this neighbourhood.

Jeanne Umurerwa: My name is Jeanne Umurerwa and I live here in Kacyiru. As you can see, we have no place to throw our domestic waste. This is the city. In the countryside, they make compost with domestic waste, but here it’s impossible. We keep waste in bags. When the waste truck doesn’t come quickly, the smell becomes more and more intense at home. When there are two or three waste bags at home, the smell is bad. What gives some relief is that Amizero doesn’t ask a lot of money. We pay 1,000 francs (Editor’s note: about US$1.70) a month per household, so it’s not expensive! That’s very important. Amizero helps us enormously!

Host: Thank you, Jeanne, and have a nice day.

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Host: Before leaving Kacyiru, dear listeners, here’s another very active lady, working from the back of the truck. She is standing next to a man who is about thirty years old, and they are both wearing red overalls as their uniform. Wearing a traditional cap, with sweat on her forehead, Domitille Uwafurika continues working. She receives bags of domestic waste and then empties them, sorts the waste and returns the bags to the residents. Here is the sound of the work.

Background voices: Take, wait, ok, pass me another bag, there, come on over here too, ok, again, who’s left? Me! Come, come!

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Domitille: I’m sorting the biodegradable wastes, the plastics and the metals. It’s an order from the environment people. It’s not easy at all, but we do it to follow their instructions. That law makes our work a bit slower. Instead of making four trips to the dump with the vehicle or even six, we now make only three per day. However, we are committed to working for a healthy environment! After collecting this waste, we carry the sorted wastes to the big garbage dump in Nyanza.

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Domitille: It’s very hard work – the smell, the strength that we need to use, it’s really difficult. However, we benefit from it. My work helps me educate my three children and I contribute to my family, together with my husband. But today, prices are going up and they are more than my salary. When we started with the co-operative, I made 700 francs per day (about $1.17 US). Today, I work for 800 (about $1.35 US), but the value remains the same, or is even less. But what I must highlight is that my life has changed because of the many trainings provided by Amizero. I’m 42 and I have only three children. If I wasn’t a member of Amizero, and if I hadn’t benefited from its trainings, I would have many children. You are familiar with how typical Rwandan families have many children, right?

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Host: Dear listeners, we are almost at the end of our show on the environment. But before closing, Floride will tell us about Amizero’s vision.

Floride: Because the government wanted to promote commercial production and entrepreneurship, we have transformed our groups into commercial co-operatives. Our vision is most importantly to strengthen those co-operatives. Today, our technical assistance to those co-operatives has lessened because we want the co-operatives to become more independent and self-sustaining. We are staying at the strategic level only, by giving training, advice on management and operations, and project analysis. We want to focus on designing projects for the development of co-operatives. We are also working with a Belgian researcher to improve the production of fuel from waste. If this project succeeds, it will really be a big thing.

Host: Dear listeners, the management of domestic waste is very important for the environment, and for health. Let’s hope that you listeners are going to sort your waste at home to set aside the biodegradables, the plastics and the metals, like Amizero does. Let’s hope also that nobody will despise the work. Everything that is done well can bring benefits, as the members of Amizero say.

Thanks to all the members of Amizero for your efforts to clean up the households and the city in general. This is another co-operative effort that is helping members’ lives and helping the environment for all. Thank you, dear listeners, for following us. You were in the company of Jean Paul Ntezimana. See you next time!

Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society Limited

Characters:
Host
Interviewer
Chairman Alfred Mdeizi
Coordinator Chris Onyango
Mama Jacinta Anyango, member and project beneficiary
Mr. Ayub Mdachi, project beneficiary
Host: 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.

Musical break

Interviewer: 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.

Chairman Mdeizi: 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.

Interviewer: In your meetings, did you come up with an activity to generate income?

Chairman Mdeizi: 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.

Interviewer: From what you’ve explained, we can call you chairman cum founder of Uriri Farmers Co-operative Society Limited, right?

Chairman Mdeizi: Yes, indeed. I spearheaded the establishment of the co-operative as I had already been involved in the farmers’ movement in Kenya.
Interviewer: Was it easy to convince farmers to switch from other crops to soybean?

Chairman Mdeizi: 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.

Interviewer: How is the co-operative unique?

Chairman Mdeizi: 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.

Interviewer: How do you operate?

Chairman Mdeizi: 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.

Interviewer: Has the number of members increased?

Chairman Mdeizi: 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.

Chris Onyango: 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.

Interviewer: What are some of the challenges you have faced?

Coordinator: 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.

Interviewer: 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.

Coordinator: 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.

Interviewer: You have talked about success stories. How visible are these success stories? If I were to go to the community, would I notice them?

Coordinator: 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.

Musical break

Host: 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.

Interviewer: 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: crunchies are fried soybeans and mandazis are a kind of fried bread).

Interviewer: 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.

Interviewer: Thank you very much, Mama Jacinta.

Host: 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.

Interviewer: 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 okara can 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.

Interviewer: 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?

Coordinator: 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.

Interviewer: What are some of the strategies in place to make sure that the co-operative is sustainable?

Coordinator: 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.

Interviewer: Would you say that you are meeting the demand of your buyers?

Coordinator: 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.

Interviewer: What are your future plans to help the project move forward?

Coordinator: We are currently using a normal posho 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.

Interviewer: 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?

Coordinator: 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.

Interviewer: Any last words, Chris?

Coordinator: 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.

Musical break

Interviewer: 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.

Rice co-operatives bring prosperity to Benin

Characters:
Host of the show: Félix Houinsou
Guests:

  • Emile Houansou, rice farmer in Dangbo
  • Albert Azon Gnadja, rice farmer in Adjohoun
  • Jeanne Ahouangnimon, rice farmer in Dangbo

Signature tune

Host: Dear listeners and friends of Radio Immaculée Conceptionin Cotonou, Benin, hello. Welcome to your favourite show dedicated to agriculture. During today’s show, we will tell you about the importance and the need for farmers to get organized in farming co-operatives. We have three guests in the studio. They are Mr. Emile Houansou, Mr. Albert Azon Gnadja, and Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon. They are all rice farmers and members of the Regional Union of Rice Farmers of the Ouémé and Plateau departments, also called URIZOP. They’re going to tell us about their experience with co-operative life.

Dear guests, hello and thanks for responding to our invitation.

Guests: (Together) Hello.

Host: I’ll introduce you to our listeners. Mr. Emile Houansou is right in front of me. He’s a rice farmer and the president of URIZOP. On my right is Mr. Albert Azon Gnadja, and on my left is Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon.

I’ll address my first question to you, Mr. Emile Houansou. Tell us the reasons that motivated you to form a farmers’ co-operative.

Emile Houansou: United we’ll win, as they often say. So our first objective was to get together to become stronger in order to defend our interests as rice farmers, and to organize the rice industry in the Ouémé and the Plateau departments.

We formed a co-operative to help each other understand and manage issues such as labour, soil, finances, management and all the other things which are the foundation of rice production. We also needed good skills to better manage our post-harvest activities and the marketing of our rice.

You know that banks and microfinance institutions do not normally grant credit to farmers. Because the weather is unpredictable, these institutions believe that agricultural production is also unpredictable. So they are not certain that farmers will repay their loans. But when farmers work together and gather in co-operatives, banks and microfinance institutions have more trust in them. Consequently, farmers can receive credit. This allows us to acquire enough working capital to improve our farms. That’s another reason we were motivated to form a co-operative.

Host: Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon, why a farm co-operative focusing only on rice? Is it because rice is the only crop grown in your region?

Jeanne Ahouangnimon: No, we don’t grow only rice. We produce many other crops, such as maize, cassava, yam, sweet potato, hot peppers, and vegetables. We also do fish farming, and raise poultry, goats and pigs. There were peasant co-operative organizations long before the rice co-operative was started. These organizations dealt with all agricultural crops. So, following the advice “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” we decided to put together a co-operative dedicated exclusively to rice.

Host: Mr. Azon Gnadja Albert, you’re the general secretary of URIZOP. How does someone become a member of URIZOP?

Azon Gnadja Albert: First, you must be a rice farmer in your village. Then, you must belong to a rice farmers’ association. Your rice field must be at least one acre or two-fifths of a hectare in size. When you have a rice field this large, the village group in your community accepts you as a member. Also, your farmers’ association must be registered with the Community Association of Rice Farmers. And it’s the Community Association that registers with URIZOP. URIZOP in turn is registered with the Rice Farmers Coalition Council of Benin, or CCR-B. CCR-B is the national organization.

Host: How many members does URIZOP have today?

Azon Gnadja Albert: URIZOP was created in 2006 and now has 1,473 rice farmers. These farmers are spread around all the communities that produce rice in the Ouémé and Plateau departments.

URIZOP incorporates 90 village groups. The 90 village groups are in the communities of Adjohoun, Dangbo, Bonou, Aguégué and Adja Ouèrè. In other communities, some rice farmers are organizing to register with URIZOP. Our door is open wide to welcome all rice farmers who share our ideals.

Host: Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon, what are the ideals of URIZOP?

Jeanne Ahouangnimon: We wish URIZOP to be a rice co-operative that brings more prosperity to its members. To accomplish that, we are currently working to change Ouémé and Plateau departments into a powerful rice area where URIZOP gets rice farmers’ land ready for planting before the season starts. Our vision is also to improve the quality of the rice we cultivate, and to secure the markets to sell our harvest.

Host: Mr. Emile Houansou, because you three farmers are not from the same community, please explain how the co-operative spirit expresses itself in the different groups that are members of URIZOP?

Emile Houansou: The co-operative spirit shows itself in our mutual assistance: “one for all and all for one.”

In the past, everybody used to gather on a communal plot to farm together. But farming communal plots did not create success for rice farmers and did not help them earn more income. So we stopped the old practice of farming on communal fields. With URIZOP, everyone has a separate field, but follows the guidelines of the co-operative. The co-operative is like a melting pot where rice farmer members exchange and share information to improve our farming activities.
Host: How does URIZOP function?

Emile Houansou: URIZOP is a co-operative with operations throughout the two departments. Its head office is in Adjohoun. It incorporates all community associations of rice farmers in the Plateau and Ouémé departments. In turn, each community association incorporates all the village associations of rice farmers. All the community associations meet in a general assembly to elect a Board of Directors. This Board elects from among its members an executive board. To manage administrative and financial affairs, URIZOP hires staff, including a technical advisor, two members of a technical team and, soon, a secretary/accountant.

URIZOP has a Control Commission composed of three members. That commission manages the businesses of the co-operative. URIZOP’s technical team takes care of the daily activities of the organization.

Host: What are those daily activities?

Emile Houansou: In the communities, the members of the technical team provide advice to rice farmers and work alongside them. They pass along information from the members to the executive board, and vice versa. If there are any difficulties, the technical team tries to address the situation. If the situation cannot be addressed by the technical team, the executive board intervenes.

However, the community associations have considerable authority. These associations seek financial and material resources in their respective communities. For example, the associations take responsibility for collecting the paddy rice, which they send to processing centres.

Host: What financial resources does URIZOP have, and how is it able to ensure that it can pay the salaries of the staff it employs?

Emile Houansou: URIZOP’s basic resources come from registration fees and social share payments from its members. Apart from its roles as the farmers’ representative and as a service provider, URIZOP operates several businesses. This gives us some operating money. But since 2009, we have also benefitted from the help of our technical and financial partners.

Host: What are “registration fees” and “social share payments”?

Emile Houansou: Each community association member of URIZOP pays around 25,000 CFA Francs (about $US50) as a registration fee and 100,000 CFA Francs (about $US200) as a social share payment. Some members may pay one or more social share payments.

Host: Could you please clarify how these member payments work?

Emile Houansou: The registration fees are used as operating capital for URIZOP. We deposit the social share payments in the bank, and use them as guaranteed capital to get credit from micro-finance institutions, or to buy fertilizer for members and supply them with other services.

Host: One larger issue that many members of co-operatives don’t understand is the need for second-tier co-operatives such as URIZOP to support themselves by building in their costs of operation. Could you clarify exactly how URIZOP builds in its costs?

Emile Houansou: We have serious difficulties collecting share payments from different members. So to ensure that we have enough funds to cover our costs of operation, we set aside 10% of the selling price of each kilogram of crop sold by each rice farmer. That is how URIZOP ensures that it builds in its operational costs.

Host: Mrs. Jeanne Ahouangnimon, since its creation, what has URIZOP accomplished concretely?

 

Host: Mr. Albert Azon Gnadja, apart from those partnerships, what else has URIZOP accomplished?

Albert Azon Gnadja: We improved many rice fields. Thanks to its partners, URIZOP donated 170 drying covers and 45 motorized pumps to its members. We also distributed nets to protect rice fields against bird attacks. URIZOP distributed rice seeds to all its members in the previous season. All those donations helped to triple production.

To better motivate the rice farmers, URIZOP is currently making efforts to buy back their harvest. URIZOP is taking the rice farming sector seriously and will expand the area of rice farming in the upcoming season.

Host: Give us some statistics on the quantity of rice harvested since the launch of URIZOP activities until today.

Jeanne Ahouangnimon: I will just give you the statistics for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011, not to look too far back. In 2009, the production in the region was only around 200 tonnes.  We had the potential for greater yields, but it wasn’t being taken advantage of, so we could not make a big profit.

In 2010, there was improvement; production was over 2000 tonnes. During the farming campaign that just ended, we estimate the production at 6000 tonnes. These increases are due to the support of our partners. Today, the average yield is four tonnes per hectare. In the past, we barely reached three tonnes, but today, in the main rice farming areas, we can harvest up to seven tonnes per hectare, without fertilizer. This explains the improved overall yield.

Host: How is the crop is marketed?

Jeanne Ahouangnimon: First, URIZOP signs a contract with groups of rice farmers at the village level. That contract specifies that URIZOP will send its technical team into the field to help rice farmers during the whole cycle of rice cultivation in order to obtain a good quality crop. After the harvest, URIZOP collects the whole crop from the villages and sells it to ESOP and CAFROP. Those organizations then take care of milling, packaging, and selling it to consumers. URIZOP collects money from ESOP and CAFROP, then distributes it to rice farmers according to the quantity of crop sold by each farmer.
I should mention that CAFROP is a new section of URIZOP. It was recently created in order to improve rice production in Ouémé and Plateau departments.

Host: Dear guests, as rice farmers, what advantages have each of you received from URIZOP?

Emile Houansou: Truthfully, being a member of this co-operative brings me a lot of advantages. First, it allowed me to benefit from many training opportunities on the different stages of growing rice: from land preparation to harvest. It also helped me to understand how to evaluate income statements, how to understand marketing techniques, and how to manage a producers’ association.

Thanks toAfrica Rice Centerwe have access to high-yielding varieties of seeds. We also have access to new rice varieties and innovations in rice farming. Because of all that, it’s prestigious for me to be a rice farmer because rice farming brings me a lot of money. I don’t even envy civil servants. The income from my rice is clearly better than their salaries.

Albert Azon Gnadja: Since I have been with URIZOP, it’s a great relief for me. I found solutions to all the difficulties I had before. As soon as I joined, I benefited from trainings. Thanks to these trainings, I now know the technical details of rice production. I know how to make a rice seed bed, how to calculate the quantity of seeds necessary for the size of my rice field, how to calculate the date on which I must apply fertilizer, and the dose needed for my field.

Unlike in the past, when I was working without knowing what I was doing, today I can calculate all the production costs for my rice. This allows me to calculate the price at which I should sell my harvest. At first, since I didn’t know these techniques well enough, my field was a little less than half a hectare. But since I joined URIZOP, my field grew to two hectares. And I earn a lot. My rice harvest is six tonnes per hectare. This allows me to meet the needs of my family. I used to have an old motorcycle, but I have bought a new motorcycle.

Jeanne Ahouangnimon: Personally, I was lucky to have worked in the 1970s in the rice farming zone of what was then called the National Corporation for Irrigation and Hydro-farming Installations, also called SONIAH. When I joined URIZOP, I noticed a big difference. I worked for SONIAH as a labourer. But I didn’t earn enough to meet my family’s needs. With URIZOP, I have my own rice field. I have easy access to all the things I need to grow rice. I can manage the income from my harvest appropriately. This allows me to better meet my family’s needs. I have built my own house. Joining this co-operative brings me all the advantages that my colleagues mentioned earlier.

Closing signature tune in background under host’s voice

Host: Farmers’ co-operatives like the Regional Union of Rice Farmers of Ouémé and Plateau departments are not common in Benin. But they provide a good example! We invite all farmers to follow it. Why? Because working within a co-operative can bring prosperity. On this note, we will end our show. Thank you to all our guests. And thank you, dear listeners. Goodbye!

Fade in of signature tune, hold, then progressive fade out

Membership in farmers’ organizations brings farmers economic, social and political benefits

Host: Small-scale farmers in Burkina Faso have been organizing to improve their farm production and their life for more than three decades. “A single finger cannot pick up any flour,” says the proverb. Today, partnerships, federations and confederations are increasingly common in rural areas of the nation.

The Union Départementale des Producteurs Agricoles de Boudry, or UDPA-B, is one of these farmers’ organizations. Our reporter, Adama Zongo, met with and interviewed two members of UDPA-B.

Prosper is a member of the farm producers’ group in Yaïka, a village located in the Boudry department of Burkina Faso, in the centre of the country. The forty years of his life do not show on his face, which expresses a certain self-confidence. He is married and the father of two young girls and three boys. His group joined UDPA-B five years ago.

Prosper: We now know that the popular proverb that says: “United we will win,” really makes sense. Before we joined UDPA-B, our group was unable to benefit from the support that other groups in that organization enjoyed. Indeed, members in those groups received seeds, fertilizers and small loans to support their farming activities. We could not remain indifferent to that situation. So we decided to join UDPA-Bin order to benefit from the advantages it offers to its members.

Host: Today, the UDPA-Bincorporates seventy groups, of which twenty are women’s groups. The organization represents about two thousand male and female producers. The people we met in two villages of Boudry seem satisfied with the actions that UDPA-B has taken on their behalf. Elisabeth is a young woman from the Boéna group, a founding member of the UDPA-B. Here is what she had to say:

Elisabeth: (In an excited and eager voice) It is thanks to the UDPA-Band to my group that I am granting you this interview. You know that it is difficult for a woman to speak out. And it’s even worse to speak into a mic! But the group and UDPA-Bhave transformed me so that today, I have confidence when I speak. I’m not afraid anymore.

Host: Elisabeth can’t wait to share her experience in UDPA-B with us.

Elisabeth: (Excited and eager) I can’t tell you all the good that the group did for us, through the UDPA-B. For instance, every year I buy school supplies for my daughter. She’s been going to school for three years. I hope that she can study for a long time, so she can have some prestigious position in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital city. I also contribute to buying medication when my children or my husband or I get sick. Today, I have a wardrobe, and it is with a sense of serenity that I go to wedding and baptism ceremonies, and to information meetings. The different financial contributions that I must make are no nightmare anymore for me. I’m not saying that I’m rich, but I don’t complain too much. I am thankful to God.

Host: As you heard, Elisabeth is happy even if she is not rich. Indeed, let’s recall this proverb: “Money cannot buy happiness.” Elisabeth is a hard-working woman. She earns her living by the sweat of her brow.

Elisabeth: I obtained a plot of land in a reclaimed swamp that is divided into lots. It is twenty metres long by ten metres wide. On this land, I grow onions during the dry season and rice during the winter. This allows me to earn money and to meet a few needs. Thanks to the UDPA-B, I obtained a small loan from the co-operative savings and credit bank. With that money, I bought sorghum that I germinate for a few days, then sell to women who make dolo (Editor’s note: millet beer). This allows me to make some profit. So, all in all, I’m able to make a bit of money when the season and the prices are good.

Host: Let’s get back to Prosper, who has only good things to say about his group and about UDPA-B. Prosper has been trained as a producer of black-eyed peaseeds. He credits UDPA-B and his group for his success.

Prosper: UDPA-B organized trainings for the members of the different groups. For example, I became a producer of black-eyed pea seeds. Other producers became facilitators who hold information and awareness sessions about violence towards women, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, and the fight against female genital mutilation. As for me, I work on raising awareness about the adoption of improved seeds. We are very much exposed to climate unpredictability around here. We are not sure of the seasons’ cycle anymore. This is one big reason why UDPA-B helps its members get inputs at reasonable rates.

Host: As well as improving the economic and social situation of its members, UDPA-B also helps them become more responsible in their lives. Prosper is proud of the audience he enjoys today in his region. He tells us more.

Prosper: Thanks to UDPA-B, I have an audience when it comes to talking about black-eyed pea seeds. People listen to me when I speak and I feel that I have a responsibility. Some members represent UDPA-Bduring meetings in the capital. Some of them made a lot of friends and became famous while chairing sessions. Others feel like they have grown wings, and are seeking to win the next municipal elections. All this has been made possible thanks to the groups, with the support and drive of UDPA-B. I don’t know what would have happened to us without these organizations. I invite each and every one of us to hold each other’s hands so we can accompany each other in our quest for a better life.

Host: We have listened to Elisabeth and Prosper, members of two groups that are part of the Union départementale des producteurs agricoles de Boudry, or UDPA-BWe have the feeling, based on their testimonies, that we have met very satisfied persons. We wish a lot of courage to the organizations that work tirelessly for the economic, social and political promotion of rural people.

Dairy farmers reap the benefits of working together in a co-operative society

Signature tune for 10 seconds, then under

Host: Good evening, dear listener. Welcome to your favourite farming program. Today, we explore the role that co-operatives and co-operative development play in improving the livelihoods of farmers in rural areas.

SFX: Sound of cows for five seconds, then under

Narrator: In the highlands of Uasin Ngishu district in the Rift Valley Province in Kenya, a quiet revolution is taking place. Two years ago, dairy farmers in the area decided to pool their resources together and start a co-operative society. They named it Kabiyet Dairies. Two years later, farmers are producing more milk and getting more than twice the price for their milk.

SFX: Sound of people chatting for five seconds then under

Narrator: It is mid-morning in Kabiyet, a village about 70 kilometres from Eldoret town. There is an air of excitement among the people gathered at the market. To farmers in this area, today is a special day. The local co-operative society is paying farmers for the milk that they have delivered to the co-op throughout the month.

Mrs. Cecilia Jepchumba is one of the many dairy farmers gathered here. She has two cows and delivers 25 litres of milk every day to the co-operative. The money she receives today will go towards buying essentials and paying school fees for her first-born son who is attending Form One in a nearby secondary school.

Yet, such a steady income has not always been the case for Mrs. Jepchumba.

Farmer Jepchumba: If you look around, you will notice that our farms look good. The conditions are ideal for farming. People here are never hungry. But they have been poor. Those with big farms plant wheat and make good money. But the majority of us with small pieces of land plant maize and beans. These crops fetch poor market prices because farmers harvest their crops and sell them immediately. At harvest time, a 90-kilogram bag of maize sells for as little as 400 Kenyan shillings (Editor’s note: approximately $5 US dollars). So we earn very little money for our produce.

Narrator: Mrs. Jepchumba was convinced by a neighbour to become a member of the new group that farmers in the village were joining in large numbers.

Farmer Jepchumba: I had only one cow that gave us 10 litres of milk. We sold the milk to vendors, who later sold it in Eldoret town. The income from the milk and our two-acre farm was not enough to cover the needs of our three children. My neighbour told me that the co-operative society would give us an alternative market for our milk. When we delivered milk to the co-operative society, we saw that the prices were good. So we decided to buy another cow. We looked for an improved breed. It was expensive, but we knew we could make more money by selling the milk.

Narrator: That was two years ago. Today, she has two mature cows and a pregnant heifer. For Mrs. Jepchumba and other women in the co-operative, despite the hardships, empowerment has come to their households.

Farmer Jepchumba: In the Kalenjin community (Editor’s note: the Kalenjin people live in the Rift Valley area of western Kenya), cows are considered a man’s affair. When I registered as a member, many men said I wouldn’t last in the group. But my children encouraged me, and they promised to take good care of our cows so that they can produce more milk. When they have the time, like after school, my boys cut Napier grass for the cows.

The women in this village who are members of the co-operative meet once every month to discuss and share ideas on how to improve our dairy farming.

SFX: Sound of cows and of a farmer hoeing, five seconds then down and out

Narrator: Away from the market, Vincent Maritim is busy weeding his Napier grass, the main fodder crop for his four cows. He delivers about 42 litres of milk to the co-operative society daily. He says the co-operative has improved his life.

Farmer Vincent: I earn more money than I used to. I’m able to take care of the needs of my family. It is laughable that two years ago, I would sell a litre of milk for nine Kenyan shillings. What I get now is much more than an average farmer in my village can expect.

In addition, I spend less on transport, both in terms of hard cash and also in terms of the time that I need to bring milk to the central collection point. Imagine 2,000 of us spending at least 30 minutes each every day to deliver milk to the dairy. That is so many hours wasted! Instead, we could be doing things on the farm that increase milk production. The dairy owns a truck that goes round each morning and evening to collect milk from farmers and deliver it to the dairy. I milk my cows and wait for the truck at the road, which luckily passes by my farm. It is easier, cheaper and less bother for us farmers.

Narrator: Are the benefits limited to the money you get and the money you save?

Farmer Vincent: The benefits go beyond money. The co-operative gives me the opportunity to share the experiences of other farmers – to see how they take care of their animals and solve pest and disease problems. I’m talking about real knowledge exchange.

There is also the feeling that we are doing something together as a village, as a community, as the people of Kabiyet. We are stronger when we are together than when we are doing our own things individually.

Narrator: For Vincent and the other members of Kabiyet Co-operative Society who deliver their milk to the Kabiyet Dairies, the future looks bright thanks to their plan to work together.

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Host: Those are the stories of two successful dairy farmers in Kabiyet. We are privileged to have with us in the studio two other people who are helping to make this success happen: the chairman of Kabiyet Dairies Limited, Mr. Abraham Rugut, and Mr. Eliud Makhoka, a farmer trainer.

Welcome to the studio.

Guests: Thank you.

Host: Let’s start with you, Mr. Abraham Rugut. When was the co-operative society started?

Chairman: We started our project in 2008. At that time, half the people in the area were living in poverty. Our business was launched on the 1st of June 2009. On that day, we received a cooler to chill our milk. The cooler was donated by the East Africa Dairy Development project. But on that day we didn’t know that we were going to get any milk! Fortunately, we managed to collect more than 1600 litres of milk. We had been talking to farmers since 2008. I must tell you that farmers in our area are known to be very difficult people to deal with!(Laughter)

Host: In what ways are the people difficult to deal with?

Chairman: Let me give you some history. The people living in Kabiyet came from Tinderet. These are the people who gave the Europeans a hard time when they were building the Kenya-Uganda Railway from Mombasa to Kisumu near the Ugandan border. (All laugh)

But we were prepared; we knew that things were not going to be easy. We talked to them for about four months before they agreed to join the co-operative. And, because we were open in our discussions, the farmers were very positive about the venture. That is why we were able to collect more than 1600 litres of milk on the first day of business. And the quantities rose. On the second day we collected better than 2200 litres and on the third day, we hit the 3000-litre mark. This was very impressive!

This trend continued and by December 2009, we were collecting about 25,000 litres of milk per day. At the moment, the dairy collects 36,000 litres of milk every day.

Host: How many members does the co-operative society have?

Chairman: We have a membership of about 4,200 farmers. Three-quarters of them have paid the membership share price of 5,000 Kenyan shillings (Editor’s note: about 60 US dollars). The rest have paid in part and are continuing with their payments.

Host: You have said that you started by collecting about 1600 litres of milk per day, and within a short time, this rose to more than 30,000. What accounts for this dramatic increase?

Chairman: First of all, we have worked very hard to teach farmers good methods of producing milk, in order to have more milk and higher quality milk.

Secondly, we have done several things that have motivated the farmers to join the co-operative in large numbers. Farmers in the co-operative pay 800 Kenyan shillings for artificial insemination services instead of the usual rate of 2,500 (Editor’s note: 800 Kenyan shillings is about 10 US dollars and 2500 Kenyan shillings is about 30 US dollars). We also have an agro-vet shop where farmers buy inputs at slightly lower prices than the prevailing market rates. They can also get the inputs on credit. The input charges are deducted from the payment the farmer gets at the end of the month for milk that is delivered to the co-operative society.

The third thing that we have done as an incentive for our farmers is to open a village bank where our farmers can deposit, save and withdraw their cash. Farmers are saved the trouble of travelling to Eldoret or Kapsabet for banking services. These towns are about 70 kilometres away, so this is a big saving in time and money.

Host: What benefits have local farmers realized from this dairy co-operative?

Chairman: Look at the volume of milk: 36,000 litres of milk every day represents a lot of money. This money has changed people’s lives. It is safe to say that the number of people living in poverty has been reduced. Before we started this project, milk in Kabiyet was selling at eight to 10 Kenyan shillings per litre. After the project started, the price rose gradually to 24 shillings per litre. This is a very big improvement to the incomes of farmers in this area.

When farmers join together in a group, they can ask for better prices because they have bigger quantities. For example, if I had 20 litres of milk, I could only sell at the local market. If I couldn’t sell to the local market, then I would sell to middlemen. But with a co-operative like ours, we can bypass all the exploitation by middlemen. Kabiyet Dairies acts like an agency. We are able to negotiate and sell directly to Kenya Co-operative Creameries, the biggest milk processor in the country.

Host: What lessons have you learned in the course of developing this farmers’ co-operative?

Chairman: We focused on bringing together farmers with a common interest. However, this alone cannot guarantee success. Kabiyet Dairies has made impressive strides in using better technologies to improve the status of our farmers. I want to give you two examples. First, our farmers are improving the quality of their herds through artificial insemination. That means they are moving away from the low-yielding traditional breeds and enjoying increased milk production. The other is the installation of a milk cooler, through a partnership with the East Africa Dairy Development project. We could not handle such a large volume of milk without a cooler. This is how technology is contributing to the success of the co-operative society.

Host: Mr. Eliud Makhoka is Director of Lengo Agriculture and Demonstration Centre, based in Eldoret. He was contracted by the Kenya Dairy Board to help the Kabiyet farmers improve the quality of their fodder crops. Mr. Makhoka, what should farmers think about if they want to start and manage a profitable co-operative society?

Mr. Makhoka: It is said that two people cannot walk together unless they are in agreement. This is the most important principle of the co-operative movement: that the people who come together to form a co-operative should have a common interest. This might be the only thing that will hold them together when there is conflict, or when the group experiences hard times. Members must know exactly why the co-operative was formed and what contributions are expected of them.

Let me add that corruption is one of the biggest killers of co-operative societies. Examples of corruption include cases when co-operative leaders spend farmers’ funds on expenses that have not been approved, or purchases that reward scheming leaders and bring no returns to members. Farmers need to make sure that the co-operative has prudent financial planning and forward-looking leadership.

Host: What is the future of the co-operative movement in Kenya?

Mr. Makhoka: Co-operative societies will be very relevant and important for small-scale farmers in Kenya and across Africa. Small-scale farmers in Africa face many challenges that can only be overcome through group efforts. For example, dairy farmers in a group can pull together resources and purchase a feed-mixing machine. They can purchase and share different kinds of equipment.

At the same time, co-operative societies improve the strength and resilience of communities in rural areas. Development organizations will tell you that it is much easier to implement a health or education project in an area where there is a successful co-operative society. Co-operatives help people have a better understanding of the common good. Therefore, people are more willing to take part in initiatives that benefit the wider community, rather than just thinking of their own families.

Host: One last question to all of you: what needs to be done to ensure that the benefits you have talked about are spread to farmers all across the country?

Chairman: I have two concerns: one is to increase the viability of existing farmers’ groups and wherever possible nurture them and transform them into full co-operative societies. This will help spread the benefits that come from farmers working together in an organized manner. Also, it is true that many farmers lack planning, management and financial skills. Co-operatives can help address this by offering farmers opportunities to acquire these skills.

Host: Mr. Makhoka, let me put your question differently: what needs to be done to ensure that the co-operative movement moves to the next level?

Mr. Makhoka: We have to be creative in managing co-operative societies. Sometimes, the amount of money that is needed to purchase inputs means that farmers have little money in their pockets. Adding value to raw agricultural crops is one way to address this lack of cash. Farmers earn more if their co-operative societies are able to sell value-added products directly to the market.

Let me end by saying that, while a lot of effort has gone into the establishment of new co-operatives, we also have to look at ways to further develop new markets and the infrastructure needed to reach these markets. So, on the one hand, co-operatives have to work on adding value to their products and investing in marketing, even if it means joining hands with other co-operatives with common interests. On the other hand, the government should invest more on infrastructure such as roads, railways and information technologies to enable farmers to reach these markets.

Host: Dear listeners, that concludes our discussion for today on how co-operatives can help boost farmer incomes. If you want to start a farmers’ group, joint marketing group or co-operative society, talk to the agricultural or livestock extension officer in your area, or visit the Ministry of Co-operative Development and Marketing offices in your district.

Until next week same time, bye for now.

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Co-operatives introduce the ‘Trusted friend’ approach to microfinance in northern Ghana: A sure way to fight poverty and hunger

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Presenter: Hello and good day to you, our cherished listeners and farmers. It is another day and time to tune in your usual program, Vom Yella, on Radio Style (Editor’s note: Vom Yella means “Life matters” in English). I am your presenter, Lydia Ajono. Today, we continue our series on co-operatives in the Kpandai District of Ghana’s Northern Region. We shall be looking at rural commercial co-operative groups and how they are fighting poverty and hunger. This program will focus on women’s groups, and especially on microfinance.

Rosemary Sonlari is the group leader of the hairdressers Trusted friend co-operative. Mama Dodoi is leader of the women baker’s co-operative group and has been trained to encourage and teach gender awareness to children, both at her bakery and at her church. These women will be sharing their stories on the program today. Please stay with us.

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Presenter: Welcome back. If you have just joined us, you are listening to Vom Yella. Madam Rosemary Sonlari and Mama Dodoi are group leaders of women’s commercial co-operative groups in Kpandai. They will share their success stories after 15 years of experience. First is Rosemary Sonlari, leader of the women hairdressers’ co-operative group. I asked her the reason for organizing the co-operative.

Madam Rosemary Sonlari: In 1996, I was among the first women to attend gender sensitization meetings offered by SEND-Ghana in Kpandai town. Issues raised at the meeting focused on environmental cleanliness and home management. Among the home management topics were teaching our girls and boys to respect each other’s roles in the home. At that time, there was a great need for women in Kpandai town to tackle sanitation. Children were always sick with malaria, which thrived in the filth of the town. I took the idea and further discussed it with my hairdresser colleagues. We decided to form this group to start doing education on environmental sanitation.

Presenter: Why did you change from sanitation education to a commercial co-operative?

Rosemary Sonlari: Actually, we did not change. The group is continuing with the sanitation education. But what happened is that the NGO, SEND-Ghana, introduced microfinance to us. We embraced it with all our hearts, because at that time the hairdressing business was just a struggle to survive.

I did not know how to manage my finances, or how to do basic bookkeeping. I did not know how to tell the difference between capital and profit. I never tried to save any of the money I earned. I realized that many of my colleagues were in the same situation. Hence, we created the Trusted friend approach to allow our hairdressers’ group to access microfinance loans from SEND-Ghana.

Presenter: How does the Trusted friend approach work?

Rosemary Sonlari: The Trusted friend approach creates a team of five women who receive loans from the bigger co-operative group, which is the rural women’s commercial co-operative group. Having a five-woman team ensures that the group will be able to repay the loan and also save some money.

Presenter: How much does each member contribute before she is allowed to take out a loan?

Rosemary Sonlari: We started with monthly membership dues of five Ghana cedis (Editor’s note: about US$3.30). The Kpandai Co-operative Credit Union savings and loan scheme allows 17 weeks for a group to get and repay a loan. While making the loan payments, individuals must make deposits in individual savings accounts. This ensures that by the time the loan repayments are completed, the group members have enough savings to act as seed money for another venture or investment. When the scheme started about 15 years ago, the first loans were six cedis per person. Today, each member can get up to 200 cedis (Editor’s note: about US$125). So if there are five people in a Trusted friend group, the total amount of loans for the group is up to 1000 Ghana cedis (Editor’s note: about US$625).

If one person defaults on their loan, the group members have to repay the loan from their own savings. This is a large amount of money. So the Trusted friend small groups are always working hard to support each other not to default on their loans.

Presenter: How has this microfinance scheme helped you personally and helped your family?

Rosemary Sonlari: Personally, it has helped me to gain knowledge of running a business and of working in a team. At first, I did not know that working in smaller groups to get loans and to save money was far better and easier than doing it alone. In the group, we learn leadership skills. And we learn how to sustain the trust we have cultivated over the years as members, not only in the co-operative group but in our hairdressing businesses.

Personally, I have expanded my business from two to 10 apprentices. I can now buy more hair products from different dealers and pay for them without relying on credit, as I used to do.

Presenter: How about your family? What benefits do they enjoy?

Rosemary Sonlari: I now buy nice clothes for my family, especially my two girls, and of course my husband. I contribute to paying the children’s school fees and cooking good food for them. This is all because I earn more income from the business now than before joining the co-operative group. Also, through the SEND-Ghana microfinance education, I have gained knowledge in gender equity and I make efforts to practice it in my home. For instance, my in-laws didn’t used to support the idea that my husband help cook for the children or the boys cooking and sweeping. But now they have come to practically benefit from the gender equality skills my husband acquired from the gender training sessions.

Presenter: You may have had some challenges along the way. What are some of these challenges?

Rosemary Sonlari: Yes, one of the main challenges is getting men to participate in some of our community sanitation activities. The other one is that the cost of hair products is ever-increasing, making it difficult to continue to make a profit.

Presenter: Thank you so much. Now let us hear from Mama Dodoi.

Mama Dodoi is 49-year-old baker with three children. She says she learned how to bake bread many years ago, when she worked as a labourer for one of the big bakers in the city. I asked her why she left the job and joined the Kpandai rural women’s commercial co-operative.

Mama Dodoi: Actually, I am one of the women who first started the group. I stopped being a labourer and started my own baking. I started baking small round balls of bread, targeting schools and the very poor who could not afford the big loaves.

Presenter: What is the capacity of your business?

Mama Dodoi: Currently, I bake about five to 10 maxi-bags of bread flour a week, which is about eight kilograms of flour. My children, especially my boy, help me do all the baking and distribution. I don’t hire other people to work with us. Apart from selling to the general public, I also have special orders.

Presenter: What improvements has the co-operative group brought to you personally?

Mama Dodoi: Oh, if I wanted to list them all, we might not finish today. But I will just give two main examples of the improvements in my life. First is my children’s education. I have been able to send all my children to school. They have completed their basic levels and are pursuing higher education in the city. Secondly, through group training activities, I have learned to train other women and educate them on home management. Because of that, I serve in my church in the women’s fellowship group. The gender education from the co-operative group has also helped me to train my boy and other male children of my relatives, and today they appreciate gender roles

Presenter: What are the things that are not working well in the co-operative group that you wish you could change?

Mama Dodoi: To me, things are okay. You know, change takes time. Our people always want to see others try and succeed at something before adopting it themselves. But I would like the leaders of the group and SEND-Ghana to sponsor needy children to attend school at the tertiary level. That would help increase the numbers of Kpandai children in university or polytechnic institutions.

Presenter: Thank you. The Trusted friend model used by the Kpandai rural women’s commercial co-operative of the Kpandai Cooperative Credit Union is growing from strength to strength. The co-operative groups are involved in many types of rural income-generating activities, ranging from food processing such as shea butter extraction to crafts. Also, the continuous sharing of knowledge on gender equity has empowered the women to be assertive and further lead their communities in key decision-making processes such as giving equal opportunities to boys and girls.

The power of co-operatives cannot be overemphasized at the Kpandai Co-operative Credit Union Associations. The residents of this fast-growing small town have a good and memorable story to tell the next generation. Join us again at the same time next week for another exciting episode of Vom Yella. Till then, bye.

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Gender mainstreaming in farmers’ co-operative: Groups in Ghana achieve food security for small-scale farmers

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Host: Welcome, dear listener, to your favourite program Vom Yella,which means “Life matters” in the Frafra language. Today’s program is about gender mainstreaming in rural farmers’ groups. Gender mainstreaming is usually talked about in government offices or in large organizations but not so much among rural farmers. On the air is your host Lydia Ajono, reaching you from Radio Style. Today we will join a farmers’ co-operative group in Kanlade, in the city of Salaga, in the Northern Region. We will hear about their gender sensitization program and their efforts to diversify their crops. Stay tuned.

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Host: Welcome again. Today we will focus on gender and farming as a way to achieve the national goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment, especially in the Salaga area. Join me now as I talk to Madam Margaret Ajokumah and Mr. Sebewie Lawali. First, we will shed some light on what motivated Madam Ajokumah to join a farmers’ group and share information on gender equality in farmers’ co-operative groups.

Margaret Ajokumah: Thank you. First of all, let me thank SEND-Ghana and the radio station for giving us this opportunity to share our story. There is a saying in our language: “If you see a dog running, there is something that is chasing it, or it is chasing something.” My marriage was almost broken about two years ago, and I had almost run away from this relationship. But I thank the farmers’ co-operative group that saved my marriage. I joined the group with my husband. He attended the initial farmers’ meeting and told me to accompany him to the next meeting. When I attended the meeting, I realized that it was a condition of the co-operative group for all members to be couples.

Host: What did you learn at the meeting that day?

Margaret Ajokumah: Traditionally, men are in charge of all cash crops, especially yam, which is the main staple food crop for the family. But that day I learned that women could also grow soya beans and process the beans into marketable products such as soya dawadawa spices or soya kebab. I was so happy to hear this that my husband and I quickly registered our names and later paid the fee of five Ghana cedis (Editor’s note:approximately US$3.30).

Host: How did you and your husband farm before joining the couples’ co-operative group in your community?

Margaret Ajokumah: My husband never helped me with the household chores. But since the regular educational talks at the farmers’ co-operative group, he helps in bathing the children and preparing them for school. He also fetches water for the home with his bicycle. He buys clothes for me and the children.

Before the farmers’ co-operative group, he treated me like I did not matter. There were always arguments at home because my children and I were always struggling to get our daily meal.

I am now buying and selling food in the Salaga big market. With the money I earn doing that, we repay our loans with the community credit union established by SEND. We also have enough to feed the family and pay the children’s school fees.

Host: How many children do you have?

Margaret Ajokumah: We have three children – two boys and one girl. Currently, the first boy is at the Tamale Polytechnic, the other is at the senior high school in Tamale, and the lastborn is still in junior high in Salaga town.

Host: Earlier you talked about the peaceful atmosphere in your home. What is your definition of peace?

Margaret Ajokumah: When I say peace, I mean that there is enough to feed the children, enough to buy them clothes, pay their school fees, provide necessary books, and pay for their health insurance. And there is enough so we can keep aside some money in case of emergencies or to contribute to the needs of my father or my husband’s extended family.

Host: Now let us look at the role you play in the couples’ farmers’ co-operative. You mentioned in our pre-discussion that you have been talking to friends about joining the group. How do you do this?

Margaret Ajokumah: I reach friends in the market when they come to buy things from me, and also at funerals or marriage ceremonies. Apart from that, we organize sensitization meetings once a month to give talks on motherhood, sanitation and other issues.

Host: What are some of the challenges you face in trying to achieve your goals with the co-operative group?

Margaret Ajokumah: We have many farming challenges. But the main ones are the unreliable weather conditions. Sometimes the rains don’t come early, or they come too hard and flood the crops.

The other concern is the cost of chemical fertilizers for growing maize and rice, as well as tractor services. Marketing is another challenge. After harvesting, the market for yams and soya beans is especially poor.

Host: What do you think could be done to help reduce or solve these problems?

Margaret Ajokumah: I think we should continue with the education activities the group is doing. Because, despite all these challenges, the couples’ co-operative groups are doing much better than those who are not in the groups.

Host: Thank you for sharing your good story.

Margaret Ajokumah: I appreciate it, and I hope you will always come to our community.

Host: In case you’ve just joined us, you’re listening to Vom Yella. On today’s program, we are discussing the couples’ farmers’ co-operative model in the Salaga area of the East Gonja district of Northern Ghana. A member of the group named Margaret Ajokumah just told us how she benefited from the program initiated by SEND-Ghana. Joining us to continue the discussion is Sebewie Lawali, the chairman of the group. But first, let’s enjoy this traditional music.

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Host:Welcome back. Before the break, we heard from Madam Ajokumah. And now, Sebewie Lawali, the chairman of the Kanlade couples’ co-operative group, is here to continue our discussion. First, what was the main aim of setting up the Kanlade farmers’ co-operative?

Sebewie Lawali: Thank you. Before I go on, I would like to take this opportunity to appreciate the role our wives and mothers play in the group, especially Mrs. Ajokumah. She has never relented since she and her husband joined the group two years ago.

The idea of a couples’ farmers’ co-operative was introduced to support our families and communities to avoid perennial hunger and give quality education to our children.

The Kanlade farmers’ co-operative was established about 10 years ago to encourage farmers – and especially men – to appreciate the role their wives play in farming and home management. The group’s values are based on love, trust, unity, transparency and accountability, as well as peaceful co-existence.

Host: How do you relate these values to your activities?

Sebewie Lawali: The first condition for membership is that all members be couples, widows or widowers. To belong to the group, you should be a person who is ready to abide by the rules of the group. That means that you are ready to promote love, unity, and peace in your home and demonstrate that you are not only a husband, but also a friend to your wife and children.

By respecting and adhering to these ground rules, we are gradually achieving some of the objectives we have set up for ourselves in farming and community development.

Host: What are some of the co-operative’s achievements?

Sebewie Lawali: There are some you can’t easily quantify. For instance, peace. I know that some of my colleagues used to quarrel almost daily with their wives or were not concerned about their children’s education. But that has all changed. I can also say that practically all our group members are exhibiting these qualities of love, unity and peace. This is the result of the gender education that is going on in the group meetings all the time.

We have also done away with the traditional farming practice of shifting cultivation and adopted intercropping and crop rotation. This is helping many families because there is such a shortage of land that families cannot afford to let it lie fallow. Even when land is available, it is less fertile than it used to be 20 or 50 years ago.

We have divided the co-operative into smaller groups for our gender education activities. Each smaller group is made up of 18 men and 18 women. One smaller group has 12 men and 12 women. Altogether, we have over 200 members in the larger Kanlade couples’ co-operative group.

Host: What other activities do you organize, alongside sustainable farming?

Sebewie Lawali: Apart from crop production, we also have commercial activities. These include petty trading, dressmaking, hairdressing, and food processing. Other income-generating activities include processing shea butter, groundnuts and oil, and producing dawadawa (Editor’s note: dawadawa is a cube-shaped snack made from fermented fruit seed paste). These are some of our strategies to ensure food security in the home and to reduce poverty.

Host: When you look back at where you were personally, what has been the benefit to you and your family?

Sebewie Lawali: The number one benefit from the groups is the gender sensitization. I am empowered today.  I can now advise my fellow men on gender issues. I can advise them that gender is not about women alone or about women controlling their husbands, like some men thought. I can testify that I used to leave all the housework to my wife, but that now I share the work with her. An example is cooking and bathing my children and even washing my wife’s clothes. I never did this before the formation of the group. I was raised to understand that cooking is for my wife. For a man to do that, you would not be respected by your colleagues.

But this perception can be changed. And the benefits of understanding gender equality and putting it into practice are enormous, rather than holding beliefs that promote conflict and poverty in the home.

Host: What challenges has the group experienced?

Sebewie Lawali: The challenges in crop production include irregular rainfall, because our farming depends greatly on rainfall. When the rains don’t come at the right time, we get low crop yields. Or when they fall early, at the time the crops need no rain, there is too much and it can even cause flooding.

The other challenge is getting tractor services, or transportation to transport the farm produce to the house after harvesting. We also face poor market prices for our produce. We are always being cheated by middlemen traders from big towns and cities.

Apart from these farming challenges, the biggest problem in the community is excessive drinking of alcohol, especially among the youth. This is causing a great deal of tension in families.

Host: What are you doing to solve this problem?

Sebewie Lawali: We are operating some community mobilization and sensitization activities involving the district agriculture office, SEND-Ghana and other civil society groups. These will help us continue to educate our people and the youth on some of these social problems.

We have also appealed to the Ministry of Agriculture through our District Assembly. We have asked the Ministry to support farmers with subsidies for tractor services and fertilizers, and also to encourage irrigated farming in the dry season.

What is working and yielding results are the farmers’ couples’ co-operatives. We will continue to promote this model until farmers in the whole district adopt it.

So these are some of the measures the group is implementing. But we lack capacity or knowledge. So we are seeking support from partners who might be knowledgeable in these areas or have the resources to support the group.

Host: Thank you so much.

Sebewie Lawali: I thank you for the opportunity.

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Host: We learned many things today, especially how couples’ co-operative groups have helped many families in Kanlade in the city of Salaga in northern Ghana. We have learned how the group has helped to ensure peace in the family and reduce the perennial food shortages. The couples’ understanding of gender equality and their practical demonstration of this in their homes has helped to strengthen relationships and marriages.

I believe you have also learned something today to help your lives. Don’t miss the next episode of Vom Yella on Radio Style.

Have a blessed day. Till we meet again, bye.

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Issue Pack: Agricultural co-operatives

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1. Introduction – two true stories about agricultural co-operatives

 
Story 1 : Makuyuni lies on the main road between Arusha and the Serengeti and Ngorongoro National Parks in Tanzania. Streams of tourists pass through the area. But just a few kilometres from the road is a totally different world. Small-scale farmers farm small, arid plots of land. Simple houses are spread along dusty, potholed tracks that wind through the hills. Many people must walk several kilometres to fetch water.

The Swedish Cooperative Centre supports MWIWAMO, a local network of farmers’ groups in the area. MWIWAMO works in several ways to increase farmers’ incomes. “The majority of our members are actually women,” according to field worker Luhekelo Sanga. Members are organized in groups of around a dozen. They receive training and individual advice from field workers. Gender equality is a common focus of their activities. Few women own land themselves. The women do most of the agricultural work, but the men control the resources and determine how they are to be used. MWIWAMO works to identify ways to increase income from the small farming niches that are traditionally identified as women’s work, such as growing vegetables.

The women who work with MWIWAMO have also invested in keeping chickens. Now that they know more about feeding, preventing illness and ways to build small henhouses, their operations have grown and their income has increased. Beekeeping and honey production also increase incomes. Large wooden beehives hang in the trees outside Anna Saloni’s house. Anna and the other members of the beekeeping group were trained to use more modern beehives to increase honey production. They also learned how to package honey in jars with beautiful labels and how to expand beyond local markets, for example by targeting supermarkets.

Like several other women, Anna Saloni has received help to build an earthen tank to store water. She also uses it to store maize and other crops that need protection from rats and other pests.

Eight members of MWIWAMO have received two months’ training as para-veterinarians. “Especially during the rainy period, the animals get sick a lot. I try to help my neighbours as much as I can,” says one of the new vets, Zakayo Saitabau.

Story 2 :
A healthy crop of tobacco grows in Henry Chikanga Nyasulu’s fields, and a huge spread of maize dries in the sun on his homestead. His land includes two beautiful brick houses with corrugated iron sheet roofing. Nyasulu is Treasurer of the Joka Smallholder Farmers’ Association in Malawi.

Born in 1966, Mr. Nyasulu dropped out of school early because his father lacked the money for school fees. He worked as a tenant farmer in the early 1990s, and was trained to grow tobacco. Returning home, he used some of his earnings to buy cattle and two goats, began tobacco farming and joined the Msaope Club of Mawiri Group Action Committee. The 1995/1996 growing season was a good one. Mr. Nyasulu earned more money than he ever had in his life – 22,000 Malawi kwacha (about $US145).

He was happy with his earnings, but the Club had some problems, including the loss of tobacco bales during transport and marketing. So when Mr. Nyasulu first heard on the radio about the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) and its activities to help small-scale farmers, he and the other members of the Club decided they could benefit from NASFAM’s guidance. In 1999, the Club was accepted and became one of the founding members of the Joka Association.

Following its acceptance into NASFAM, transporters came to the farmers’ land to collect the bales, and the Club had its first season without any losses of tobacco. Mr. Nyasulu thought that the 22,000 Malawi kwacha he made when he first joined the Club was a large amount. But the profits from his first season as a Joka member were three times as much!

Mr. Nyasulu was trained by the Joka Association on crop diversification. He decided to spread his income base and increase his food security by growing more cash and food crops, including paprika and maize.

Mr. Nyasulu’s standard of living has increased dramatically: “The moment I joined the Association, I knew I had struck gold. Ever since then, all I have made are profits. In this period alone, I have bought five more cows … Last season I built another house, and because I grew a lot of maize, I have added three more barns.” Unlike many in the village, he no longer has to worry about providing food for his family.

This year, Mr. Nyasulu grew three and a half acres of tobacco and expects to make around 80,000 Malawi kwacha net profit (about $US525). He also grew three acres of soybeans, paprika, maize and 12 acres of cassava. When asked the secret to his success, Mr. Nyasulu spoke very directly: “First and foremost is the fact that I make sure I attend all Association meetings. It is there that I get information on good farming methods. I make sure that I follow the advice given by the Association advisors and implement what I have been taught in Association trainings. Another contributing factor is that I closely supervise my workers and I work with them, because I am the one who attends the trainings and I need to make sure that what my workers are doing is in line with what I have learned.”
He adds, “Over and above this, I owe my success to my wife who has been a constant help from the time I joined the Association – though I must admit that initially I did not want to bring her in the business wholly. However, my attitude changed completely when the Association started the gender program. That is when we were taught the importance of doing farming business with our spouses. Now I see my wife as part of the whole business. Ever since then, she knows how much we have marketed and I consult her on how much we should spend and what to do with the rest of the money.”

2. Background information on agricultural co-operatives

This section gives basic information on agricultural co-operatives. Please consult the resources in section 4 for more information.

Definitions

The International Co-operative Alliance defines a co-operative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

The seven internationally recognized co-operative principles are:

  • voluntary and open membership;
  • democratic member control;
  • member economic participation;
  • autonomy and independence;
  • provision of education, training and information;
  • co-operation among co-operatives; and
  • concern for the community.

An agricultural or farmers’ co-operative is a group in which farmers pool their resources in certain ways. Most agricultural co-operatives in Africa are agricultural service co-operatives, which means that they are owned and operated by members and provide different kinds of services to individual farmer members. There are two main types of agricultural service co-operatives, supply co-operatives and marketing co-operativesSupply co-operativesprovide their members with inputs for agricultural production, including seeds, fertilizers, fuel and machinery services. Marketing co-operatives assist their members with processing, packaging, distribution, and marketing of farm products (both crop and livestock). Some co-operatives provide both input services and marketing assistance. In addition, farmers within and outside of co-operatives often rely on credit co-operatives to finance both working capital and investments.

The other type of agricultural co-operative, which is much less common in Africa, is an agricultural production co-operative, in which production resources such as land and machinery are pooled and members farm jointly.

It should also be noted that local agricultural co-operatives often create second tier co-ops to create economies of scale. For example, a group of primary co-operatives might work together to build central storage facilities, get better prices for bulk inputs, market much more effectively, and achieve greater political influence. All this might be achieved through the creation of larger, for example regional, co-operative entities.

Information in this section from the following websites:

Benefits of co-operatives

Agricultural co-ops offer three kinds of benefits – economic, social and political:

Economic benefits: Agricultural co-ops create opportunities for farmers to increase their income. This can alleviate poverty at the local and national levels. Co-ops can help farmers access farming inputs, storage facilities, credit, and market information, and can improve the marketing of their products.  Co-operatives create employment opportunities and allow disadvantaged groups to organize themselves for their economic benefit.

Social benefits: Co-ops provide social benefits by protecting members from risks and addressing important social problems. The profits made by co-operatives can be used to benefit members as they see fit, through democratic decision making, for example by establishing medical clinics and daycare facilities. Other social benefits of co-operatives include:

  • improving farmers’ living and working conditions;
  • providing financial services to help members respond to unexpected problems;
  • making production and consumption credit available to small-scale producers;
  • offering production, health, funeral and life insurance and protecting buyers from adulteration of commodities; and
  • taking social actions such as care for the aged, children and handicapped, and creating employment for socially disadvantaged people.

Political benefits: Co-operatives can play a vital role in public life and civil society. They can express their views on issues that affect their communities’ welfare, including environmental conservation, public health care and education. The contribution of co-operatives to civic life is founded on the fact that they provide opportunities for members to participate in democratic decision-making processes. The principles of voluntary and open membership and democratic member control ensure that the co-operative is a school for values such as honesty, transparency, and equity.

3. Production ideas

 There are many ways to create effective and entertaining radio programs on agricultural co-operatives. Here are some suggestions:

  • Write and produce a five-minute drama about a farmer who joins an agricultural co-operative to address a specific problem or problems related to marketing products, purchasing inputs, storage, farming practices, or other issues. You could contrast his or her positive experience with a farmer facing the same problems who chooses not to join a co-operative and does not receive the benefits of membership.
  • Interview members of a co-operative about their experiences. These interviews could be conducted in the field or in the studio. You might begin with questions such as:
    • Why did they join the co-operative? What were the problems they were facing that they hoped to address through joining a co-op?
    • What benefits does the co-operative provide for them – including economic, social and perhaps even political benefits?
    • What do they particularly like about membership in the co-operative? What things could work better in the co-operative?
    • How are they required to participate in the co-operative?
  • Interview an expert on agricultural co-operatives from the government, from an NGO, or from a farmers’ organization. Questions might include:
    • What kinds of farming or rural problems do co-operatives effectively address?
    • What advice do you have for farmers who are interested in joining a co-operative?
    • Do co-operatives have specific benefits for women farmers?
    • How can co-op members ensure that leaders (and others) conduct the business of the co-operative fairly and avoid corruption?
  • Produce a call-in or text-in program. Invite an expert on agricultural co-operatives or local members of a co-operative to the studio, and ask them to make a presentation about the co-operative. Then invite callers to call or text questions on issues such as how the co-operative operates, the benefits, the costs, and how to join a co-operative.
  • Produce 4-6 radio spots on the benefits of co-operatives, or the steps required to create an agricultural co-op. Each spot could start with the same “punchy” lead line and discuss one important element, including:
    • How co-operatives can increase farmers’ incomes;
    • How co-operatives can reduce the cost of farming inputs;
    • How co-operatives can increase access to credit;
    • How to run a co-operative to minimize corruption; or
    • The seven principles of co-operatives (see above).
  • Host or chair a roundtable discussion on agricultural co-operatives in your community. Invite various representatives, including progressive farmers, civic and traditional leaders, agricultural entrepreneurs, leaders or members of women’s groups, extension workers, and representatives of NGOs. If the discussion lacks excitement or entertainment, you could play “devil’s advocate” by pointing out some of the problems that have occurred with individual co-operatives.
  • Interview members of nearby (or distant) communities that have successfully addressed problems by establishing or joining an agricultural co-op. Follow up with a call-in or text-in program which considers whether this solution would work for farmers in your community.
  • Hold a contest: Invite listeners to submit poems or songs about agricultural co-ops and offer a prize to the best ones. Broadcast all the good submissions on-air.

4. Further resources on agricultural co-ops

Some of your most useful resources will be members of local agricultural co-operatives. These people, especially long-time members but also new members, can offer insight into how co-ops work, and can refer you to others with interesting perspectives on co-operatives. As well, you can consult the following organizations, radio programs, online/print documents, and videos.

Resource organizations focusing on agricultural co-operatives

 

Resource programs and documents

Radio programs:

Internet / print documents:

Videos: