Today I’m going to tell you how members in a Jamaican cooperative expanded their farming activities and found new ideas for growing and harvesting crops. But even more importantly, you will learn how they joined a credit union to achieve their farming goals.
The story begins in Long Road, Jamaica, a remote community in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. After years of struggling and competing against each other to sell food to local markets, the farmers came together to form a cooperative. They called it the Long Road Cooperative.
The cooperative began improvements to the community with the support of a local development group. First, they repaired roads, built a bridge over a deep gully, and laid a pipe to bring water to their village. Growing and transporting crops became easier. Next, they found markets for their crops. Some of their customers were grocery stores, caterers and juice makers in the city of Kingston. They bought a truck to take their crops to the markets.
The demand for the farmers’ crops increased. Food processors, schools, hospitals and export companies wanted to buy food from the cooperative. To keep up with the demand, some farmers needed more farm tools, seeds and other materials. And many people needed more labour on their farms, and advice on growing and harvesting crops.
Few of the farmers had money for the things they needed. And many could not get a bank loan. For example, many of the farmers could not prove to the bank that they owned the land they farmed. Usually, the land was handed down from father to child, and there were no documents proving ownership.
So the farmers found an alternative. They joined a credit union. A credit union is similar to a bank. You can deposit money, save money and get loans; but unlike a bank, a credit union is owned and operated by its members. Each new member pays a small fee to join the credit union. All the members together jointly own the credit union. Members save money and lend money to each other at low rates of interest.
Credit unions are an alternative to banks, especially for poor farmers who want to borrow money. Credit unions are also interested in improving the local economy. They invest in local businesses, have a special interest in their community, and lend money for local improvements.
For the Jamaican farmers in Long Road the credit union was an opportunity to expand their farming activities and build up a credit history, so that they could try new farming projects.
Each member of the Long Road cooperative had to pay a membership fee to join the credit union. But many farmers did not have the money to pay the fee. St. Mary’s Rural Development Project, a local non profit organization, gave them money. So when the farmers repaid their loans, they also repaid the fees. The remaining money from their payments went into their own accounts at the credit union. Now, because they were members of the credit union, they could borrow from their own savings accounts again for their farming and other co-op activities.
The loan system worked very well. Almost every farmer who borrowed money made loan payments on time. Several farmers have borrowed more than once from the credit union to expand their farms and activities even more.
When they needed help or advice about farming, the cooperative members asked one of the two extension workers hired by St. Mary’s Rural Development Project.
News of the cooperative’s success spread to nearby areas. Farmers in neighbouring communities started other cooperatives. The Long Road Cooperative joined with three other groups to form the Annotto Bay Co-op Group. A second extension officer was hired to help the large membership of farmers.
With access to money, some farmers were willing to experiment with different crops and new products. For example, four farmers agreed to farm their land together, and intercropped plantain and sweet potato.
Joining the credit union has provided the members of the cooperative with security for the future of their villages. They know that as long as they pay back their loans on time, they will not be in danger of losing their farms. And they will be able to borrow more money for farming projects. This gives the people the confidence to try new ideas and help each other.
Working together is the key to success for this group of Jamaican farmers. The cooperatives have revived community life, and provided people with the means to improve their knowledge and skills in the changing marketplace.
This script was written by Belinda Bruce, Assistant Editor, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, Toronto, Canada. It was based on interviews with members and staff of the Annotto Bay Co-op Group.
Clusters, networks and linkages in the agriculture and food processing sectors in Jamaica: Case studies in methods for overcoming market failure, Gordon V. Shirley, University of the West Indies, June 1993.