Script 83.6

Notes to broadcasters

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In many parts of Kenya, farmers organize small, voluntary work groups in which members help each other to accomplish heavy farm tasks such as ploughing, planting, and harvesting. These community labour-sharing groups may also be organized for other community work, such as building houses and preparing food during a wedding or funeral. Community labour-sharing groups are also used as a coping strategy for families and communities which are short of labour because of the impact of HIV and AIDS or other illnesses such as malaria and TB.

Some development organizations try to build on these local organizations to carry out their agricultural extension work. In this kind of work, cooperative labour groups enable others to learn new ideas from those who have already acquired the knowledge. In this script, we hear an example of what some western Kenyan communities are doing.

There are cooperative farming groups or voluntary work groups in many African countries – indeed, all over the world.

Are there cooperative labour-sharing groups in your listening area? If so, you might want to interview group members and ask them about how the group works, what kinds of tasks are accomplished, and how the group benefits the farmers.


Music to introduce the program (fade up, then under and out).

Welcome listeners. In our program today, we will learn about cooperative farm work groups, also referred to as community labour-sharing. Many types of labour are shared to ease the work load, for example ploughing, planting, weeding, harvesting, threshing, and, at times, even transporting goods to markets if there is a surplus. We will focus on how cooperative farm work is done in communities in the Siaya district of western Kenya. Stay tuned.

Fade in music, then under host and out.

Welcome back. We will hear from our two guests. First, we will hear an extension officer’s perspective on how cooperative farm work is done today, and then we will hear from a farmer on how it used to be. Welcome Mr. Charles Ogada and Mr. Wilson Oduor. As you have heard, we would like to learn what cooperative farm work is, how it works, and what it entails. Mr. Ogada, please speak to the listeners.

Thank you. I will start by explaining what cooperative farm work means. There are two kinds of cooperative groups. In some cooperative farm work, farmers simply come together and labour for a common goal or action. The aim is to help one another meet the heavy work load better and more quickly. The coming together of farmers in these collective efforts is always driven by demands such as the need for labour, the need for farm inputs, and the need to access loans or markets. In Kenya these types of community self-help groups have been called “harambee”.

As an agricultural extension officer, I also work with small-scale farmers in another type of cooperative group, a group which has a business or economic objective. Many of the farmers I work with are subsistence farmers. These farmers lack the resources to support their farming enterprises, including seeds, farm equipment and agricultural support services. We encourage these kinds of farmers to join together according to their farm enterprises, for example as poultry producers or vegetable producers. These groups are referred to as common interest groups. In these small groups, farmers are given support such as extension visits, loans and training to help increase their production.

When we work with these kinds of cooperative farmers’ groups, the first task for an extension officer is to identify the farmers and their needs, and to organize them into specialized production units for training, extension visits and follow-ups. This is a long process. It might take two or three agricultural seasons for one group of farmers to come together effectively, because, although I can help, the farmers have to organize themselves. They are the ones who make decisions. The farmers all have an equal vote in how the group conducts its affairs. They must all contribute some sort of financial capital to get the cooperative going. They don’t wait for outsiders to give them money – they contribute their own savings.

The number of people in farming groups varies from place to place and depends on the people who have felt the need to start the group. But an ideal number for an effective production group is between 15-20 people.

These kinds of groups have rules that guide their work. The rules often cover membership, participation in cooperative activities, leadership and governance, and sharing of resources. The rules are made by the members of the cooperative, not by government workers.

Farmers agree on penalties in case one of them breaks the rules. A unique feature of cooperative groups is that penalties are set and enforced internally by the group. The penalties vary from cutting off benefits and suspension to disqualification.

This is how cooperative farm groups are currently arranged. There are some differences between how it is done now and how it was done some years back, the traditional way. In modern times, cooperatives are very much driven by economics, by the need for added income, and by the reduced cost of inputs available to cooperative farmers’ groups. In the traditional cooperative movement, in the harambee groups, the driving factor was very much social, the need to have enough food, the need to have a cohesive community. Traditional cooperatives were mainly formed around family lineage, a fact that is not necessarily important today. I believe that our farmer, Mr. Wilson Oduor, will agree with me. Modern cooperatives still have a solid commitment to the community and aim to do good work in the community, but they know that this can only be done if they make a profit, in which they all share and maybe some is reserved for community work. So it is a business, owned by community members, each having an equal vote. These kinds of cooperatives try to have both women and men members and voters to ensure gender equity.

Yes, I do agree with what our extension officer has said. Today, even the working tools we once enjoyed sharing are subject to rules about how they should be shared. In remote rural communities, people still share equipment freely – there are no restrictions, except for the courtesy that requires that you inform your neighbour when you are in need. But in communities closer to towns and cities, there are more rules. The difference in traditional cooperatives has to do with lineage – the groups would start working on the eldest grandfather’s farm, and move to the youngest grandchild’s farm last. Another difference is that now there is a farmer instructor, who helps the group decide how they want to work. Once the work is started, it continues until the work has been done at the last person’s farm. Today, the groups choose how many days per week they will work, and on which particular days they will offer their voluntary farm labour. Other than that, there isn’t much to add to what the officer has said. Thank you.

Mr. Oduor, will you tell the listeners some examples of labour sharing that the communities practice today?

The organized groups help each other with physical farm work – ploughing, threshing, harvesting and so on. They also support each other with savings and loans to enable individual farmers to buy farm tools. The group also has a rotating loan fund that is built from the members’ savings. Each member contributes towards the purchase of a specific item agreed on by the group. Or the money can be used towards construction of a farmers’ house. Cooperative members also educate each other and hire instructors to teach them new techniques so they can produce better together. They may also combine resources to buy seed and inputs or to sell in large quantities for a better price than they could get alone. In the past, labour sharing not only included farming activities like ploughing and threshing, but also activities such as cutting grass and thatching a hut together. Groups also shared tasks such as cooking during a funeral, because the number of mourners at times is overwhelming. Today it is different: people are contracted to cut grass for thatching, and cooks are paid to prepare food and serve visitors during funerals. So things are very different in some ways, and the same in others.

Fade up music then under.

Thank you, our beloved farmer and our agricultural officer. We have learned what cooperative work is, how it is done, who is involved, and even heard a comparison between how it is done today and how it used to be. We have all filled our baskets with useful knowledge to take home, thank you. Goodbye until we meet in our next program.


Contributed by: Rachel Awuor, Ugunja Community Resource Centre, Ugunja, Kenya.

Reviewed by: Rodd Myers, Senior Programme Manager, International Development, Agricultural Development Specialist, Canadian Co-operative Association.

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