When 58-year-old Namilazi Fredrick joined one of the agriculture cooperatives in her home district, Mchinji, she was pessimistic of getting any substantial benefits. But two years down the line, she is all praises to the very decision she had doubts in.
Fredrick, a widow with four children, is one of the local farmers reaping the benefits of belonging to agriculture cooperatives.
“I can now support my family because I have a sustainable flow of income through my improved agriculture production,” says Fredrick, a member of Kasekese Agriculture Cooperative in Mchinji.
Before joining the cooperative, she had difficulties with accessing farm inputs and lacked skills in modern practices of farming. This affected her production which resulted in low income for the sustenance of her household.
For instance, in 2011, Fredricks realised 500 kilogrammes (kg) of groundnuts on her small piece of land which fetched her K80,000 after sales.
“This was a loss to me because I spent a lot of time and money on this production,” says Fredrick, a resident of Kadammanja Village, Traditional Authority (T?A) Dambe in the district.
But after joining the cooperative in 2015, there has been a turn-around of fortune regarding her agricultural practices.
Now she has easy access to farm inputs, extension services as well as collective marketing of agricultural produce.
During the 2016/2017 farming season, Fredricks harvested 1,960kg of groundnuts on the same land, making about K470,000 as total income.
“It was the first time for me to make such an amount of money since I started farming,” she says.
With such financial returns, Fredrick has managed to erect an iron sheet-roofed house, paid for her children’s school fees and invested in rearing goats. All this because of her membership to Kasekese Agriculture Cooperative.
With a total membership of 65 people – 48 women, 11 men and six youths – the cooperative offers opportunities that smallholder farmers could not attain individually.
Notable benefits include bargaining power of selling farm produce as a group and resource sharing that is key in providing investment for agricultural production.
“I have benefited immensely through the cooperative. Production has improved and my home is food secure and financially stable,” says 49-year-old Azele Sikelo, one of the male members in the cooperative.
Sikelo, who comes from Gandali Village in T/A Dambe, is no longer troubled by unfavourable negotiations with intermediaries and huge costs of transportation in delivering his produce to the market.
“The cooperative is acting as an integrator. It collects crop produce from members and delivers it in large quantities to markets,” he says.
Equally benefiting are the youth who are realising their potential in commercial farming through the cooperative.
Langton Banda, 27, from Chizumba Village in the same area, is one of the young farmers into productive farming.
“Previously, I was limited to practising subsistence farming. But after joining the cooperative, I am doing more of commercial farming,” says Banda.
In 2016/17 growing season, he realised K230,400 from 300kg of unshelled groundnuts, an earning which was four times more than the same quantity in the previous season.
“The technical assistance in cropping system obtained through the cooperative was key to this successful production,” he says.
Through the cooperative, farmers have easy access to loans for agricultural production and a bargaining strength in selling their crops through direct interaction with buyers.
Apart from empowering farmers with various opportunities, Kasekese Cooperative is also into value addition by processing some agricultural produce such as groundnuts and milk.
Two years ago, Churches Action in Relief and Development (Card), a local nongovernmental organisation (NGO) working towards youth and women empowerment, gave the cooperative machines for making peanut butter and cooking oil from groundnuts through funds from Oxfam.
The cooperative also boasts of a milk bulking machine it received early last year from Feed the Future AgDiv, an international NGO working in agriculture sector.
“The machines are helping us into value addition because we are easily making by-products from groundnuts and milk,” says Robert Gerevasio, Chairperson for the cooperative.
Gerevasio commends both Card and Feed the Future AgDiv for boosting their means for generating revenue.
Card Project Assistant Alinafe Gondwe says that apart from improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, agriculture cooperatives are critical in maintaining the supply of food.
“Our organisation believes in empowering these farmers because they play a greater role in meeting the growing demand for food on local, national and international markets,” Gondwe says.
Card, with funding from Norwegian Church Aid, is implementing an Economic Empowerment Project that is providing support to two agriculture cooperatives in Mchinji.
The second cooperative is called Mikonga in T/A Dambe and has a membership of 40 farmers.
According to Gondwe, the cooperative business model has proven to be extremely powerful, both economically and socially, around the world.
“There is evidence of constant growth of the cooperative sector globally. Most of the cooperatives have withstood global financial problems by positively influencing the economic and social well-being of people around the world,” he says.
Hearing stories of smallholder farmers such as Namilazi Fredrick, it is clear that one simple approach by farmers of organising themselves into groups is so empowering in the agricultural value chain.
“Our dream is to take the crop produce and by products beyond local markets. With this cooperative, we are hopeful of achieving that,” says Fredrick
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues