Transforming rural communities through cooperatives
Ruth Mulomba from Chimwayi Village Traditional Authority (T/A) Kuntumanji, in Zomba used to cycle for more than 40 kilometres per day just to access a unit of buns at the closest trading centre.
“Buns are on high demand here and I could make fast money. That is why I travelled that long every day to the city to get this commodity,” she says
But with the coming of Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip), that changed for the better.
Following the establishment of Sakata Comsip Cooperative Bakery in the village, Mulomba no longer cycles to the city.
Supported by Comsip Cooperative Union with funding from Local Development Fund (LDF), Sakata Comsip Cooperative Bakery started its operations on August 22, 2015 following the formation of Sakata Comsip Cooperative in January 2002.
According to Mulomba, the opening of the bakery is a huge boost to her business as she is saving both time and energy.
“It is business made simple now. This is a breakthrough in my business,” she says.
In the past, Mulomba had to close her retail shop and hop on a bicycle to town when stock ran out. But now, her shop is always open because she orders the buns in the locality.
Dorothy Chindamba is the secretary of Sakata Comsip Cooperative. She agrees that the opening of Sakata Bakery is a milestone in as far as business of selling buns in the area is concerned.
She says the bakery is serving over 50 villages within their catchment area and the bakery business is rewarding.
“Sakata Comsip Cooperative has 34 members and all of us are doing fine. Some members own decent houses while others have cows and goats.
“Above all, members are able to pay school fees for their children in secondary schools and colleges. Others even have sewing machines, bicycles and some of us are buying solar panels for our houses,” Chindamba says.
Sakata Bakery produces 168 units of buns per day sold at K500 per unit with each bun fetching a retail price of K65, according to Chindamba.
She says the bakery makes an average of K80,000 per day, which is good news for their cooperative, adding that people have stopped going to Zomba City to buy buns.
The flourishing of the bakery business is also spawning long-term plans of giving back to the communities that form the bulk of their customers.
“We are planning is to construct a school so that children around here should not cover long distances seeking education,” Chindamba says.
The nearest school to the surrounding communities that the bakery serves is Msondole, which is over five kilometres away.
Chindamba is hopeful that plans for the school will materialise.
“The way our business is fairing, it is very much possible to do that in five to six years from now. We are receiving huge support from customers, some from as far as Lake Chilwa shores,” she says
The cooperative is also into charity work in that 25 percent of its proceeds go towards helping the needy.
But everything is not rosy for Sakata Comsip Cooperative.
The absence of electricity and lack of means of transport to carry their products to other places is slowing business.
“We do not have power. We applied for connection at Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) but we are yet to get connected. Currently, we are using firewood and this slows down business,” Chindamba says.
She adds that transportation problems confine their products to a small area. “We want distribution to reach many places, even outside Zomba. That cannot work now since we do not have a car,” says Chindamba, adding that plans are under way to purchase one.
Despite these challenges, the cooperative is managing to bail out community members from poverty.
Community Development Assistant for Zomba Mphatso Kanyenyeu is impressed with the impact Sakata Cooperative is having on surrounding communities.
“Their performance is brilliant and we need more of these groups in Zomba for economic empowerment of our communities,” Kanyenyeu says.
“Numerous problems that rural women and girls face today can be tackled if they are provided with small grants and equipped with basic business skills as evidenced by Sakata Cooperative Bakery.”
According to Kanyenyeu, the business capital for the group came from the Public Works Programme, which is a short-term, labour-intensive employment opportunity for poor households in community projects.
Sakata Comsip has boosted its savings to over K2.8 million. Moreover, members have also established their own businesses.
Comsip’s Information, Education and Communication Officer, Emmanuel Muwamba, believes communities have a crucial role to play in complementing government’s efforts in rural development.
“Cooperatives in rural areas have the potential to effectively contribute to the social economic development of the country. They promote a culture of savings and investment among the poor and ease access to financial services,” Muwamba says.
Comsip Union is registered under the Cooperative Societies Act No 36 of 1998 and was registered in January 2006 and came into active operation in January 2007.
The Union has over 400 cooperatives and over 4,000 groups across Malawi. It serves a population of over 150,000 members organised in groups, clusters and cooperatives in all the 28 districts of Malawi.
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