Written by Ms. Tuul Tuvshinbayar, Program Manager, EMIRGE Mongolia
Under the EMIRGE Mongolia program, I continually witness that members in well-managed cooperatives work better together and lead their businesses to success. This is evidenced by the significant increases in income, the proposal of new ideas and initiatives, the application of new technology, and the displays of members’ unity, solidarity, and increased social activity. Cooperative members and the management around them are crucial for cooperative success and are core to its survival.
Most cooperatives face issues such as poor access to financing, inexperience in marketing their products, challenges in developing methods or solutions for motivating the members, problems with managing daily cooperative activities, and understanding how both business and cooperative principles operate simultaneously. The sharing of personal experiences with solving organizational challenges helps listeners feel connected. When cooperative leaders highlight their paths to growth, it raises confidence in other cooperatives who are searching for their own solutions to address cooperative or market challenges. Successful cooperatives can lead growing cooperatives to achieve much more, and cooperative leaders can inspire and teach other cooperative leaders in ways that professional consultants can’t.
With this in mind, the EMIRGE Mongolia team organized a 3-day community leadership training alongside Development Solutions, a local Mongolian non-governmental organization, to build the facilitation and leadership skills of cooperative members and board members. This 3-day training helped cooperative leaders grow their presentation skills while also focusing on building self-confidence to bring out their natural ingenuity.
Cooperative leaders need to able to speak, plan, and bolster support to galvanize member proactivity.
After three days of training, one cooperative leader presented her cooperative activities to the community meeting. Another cooperative leader facilitated a session on preparing compost to increase soil fertility. Many of these individuals had little experience speaking in front of a group. The reactions were impressive! One member said, “The EMIRGE training helped me have the confidence to explain to others about my cooperative and my business. I am very proud that I can speak in front of many people.”
These individuals are not just poor farmers—they are proprietors of their own farms and are members of growing cooperatives. They are becoming representatives and encouraging community members to take the initiative to join a cooperative and learn how to increase their production. The EMIRGE program continues to strive to make the community leadership training a hallmark of our cooperative development service and emphasize that cooperatives leaders are community leaders.
This blog post is a reposting of a blog written by Sylvain Roy, CNFA President and CEO, and published on Microlinks.org on August 24, 2006.
“Hamra Adulai is part of the 50-member Bura Iftin women’s group that sells poultry in the northeastern part of Kenya. Hamra explained to our staff that her group wanted to expand its operations, but they first needed to find a reliable funding source. Hamra, as a follower of the Islamic faith, was discouraged by the current loan system in Kenya. Kenyan banks offered limited Sharia-compliant banking products, particularly through microfinance institutions. Their vision to expand stalled until Hamra and the other women learned about the Community-Owned Finance Institution (COFI), Kenya’s first and only Sharia-complaint Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO) that focuses on livestock, animal production, and agriculture.
COFI was established under the Kenya Drylands Livestock Development Program (KDLDP), funded by USAID and implemented by CNFA, a U.S.-based international development organization that specializes in agriculture, livestock, and agribusiness. As part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Initiative, the three-year program was designed to address the many obstacles pastoralist households face in northeastern Kenya to achieve both economic and food security across the country. During community mobilization, the program identified a perception among the pastoralists that major banks in the region lacked Sharia compliance and had limited reach. Just like Hamra and the Bura Iftin women’s group, they were unsatisfied and wanted Sharia-compliant financial products and services with peer group guarantee mechanisms. After several consultations and five district visits to meet with stakeholders and beneficiaries, the implementation of an in-depth feasibility study, and the development of a robust business plan, the project agreed to officially support the launching of COFI.
The Kenyan Minister of Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands launched the SACCO in December 2012. Two weeks after the launch, COFI had registered 320 members and 10 groups with savings of Ksh 4.2 million (US$48,837) in the bank. COFI’s first office opened in Nairobi and extended to Garissa, in northeast Kenya, where its headquarters resided during August 2013. The new office helped intensify the membership drive and reach organizations like the Bura Iftin women’s group. As of October 2013, COFI had doubled since its inception, with women representing 46 percent of its membership. The savings had grown to Ksh 10.5 million (US$128,443), with COFI dispersing credit amounting to Ksh 8.54 million (US$113,752) to 49 members.
I’m proud to report that Hamra and the IFTIN women’s group received their loan to expand their poultry production. Their story is just one of the hundreds that have started to benefit from COFI. COFI symbolizes how important it is for development programs to collaborate with its beneficiaries. Through meetings with community groups, government officials, and smallholder farmers, we were able to meet a need that serves an underrepresented group. Pastoralists in northeast Kenya now have a new opportunity to receive financial assistance that aligns with their beliefs. This will improve their businesses, incomes, and livelihoods.
While KDLDP has officially closed, COFI continues to grow under the leadership of its Board of Directors and members.”
Harvest losses high in Rwanda: How to turn post-harvest loss into income generation and food security
Written by: Emile Nsengumuremyi, Senior Program Officer - Agronomist, EMIRGE / Rwanda
Post-harvest losses are food losses. Each step of the way from the farm to the market there are more and more losses. In a country such as Rwanda, food security relies on producing and storing major staple crops, such as grain. However, post-harvest commodity losses are particularly high. More than 25% of the grain produced can be lost through the entire post-harvest chain before reaching the consumer. These losses occur at every stage - harvest, transport, drying, shelling, winnowing, sorting/packaging, storage, and even during transport to market and in-market storage.
Like many nations, grains represent the basis for food and job security for the Rwandan population and, consequently, more than 80% of Rwandans are involved in agriculture. Despite the national post-harvest strategic policy to reduce the losses of food grain crops from nearly 30% in 2010 to 15% in 2015, the Ministry of Agricultural and Animal Resources reports that losses are still hovering around 25%!
I led the USAID/EMIRGE Rwanda program’s Post–Harvest Handling and Storage (PHHS) investigation in March and April of 2016. The causes are numerous but the key threats are known. In Rwanda, the root causes of food loss are linked. Among the cooperatives that we worked with, the key issues were: 1) lack of adequate extension services to build farmers’ skills in PHHS; 2) lack of proper packaging and storage; 3) insufficient or absence of appropriate on-farm drying and storage facilities; and 4) poor market access leading to the need for storage. For cooperatives and other groups, another key factor is their limited access to financing that would allow them to invest in small to medium processing services.
However, post-harvest loss is a solvable problem. What if we could reduce these nearly 25% of food grain losses to an admissible 10% and turn lost grains into marketable food for Rwandans?
Attacking the root causes of post-harvest loss can contribute significantly to improve millions of Rwandan farmers’ lives. If small-scale farmers could use hermetic bags, hermetic plastic, and/or small metallic silos, they could reduce losses of up to 40% on farm crop loss.
Farmers’ cooperatives, cooperative unions, and private firms could collaboratively invest in larger storage capacities to accommodate famers’ harvests in their respective regions. Additionally, traders could build large-scale warehouses in regional locations for their businesses.
Cooperative unions could seriously play a more active role by investing in an improved storage facility in each district and lead the crop collection activities for member cooperatives. While this strategy would require interlinked support from the government and other stakeholders, it would also increase the investment in having successful cooperatives in Rwanda – a long-time priority of the Government of Rwanda. Another key strategy would entail crop collection points in different districts in order to ease the enormous Rwandan shortage of post-harvest drying and storage facilities. Modern lending products that are designed to facilitate the building of processing facilities for value addition would keep valuable funds inside Rwanda – because, currently, much of the processing occurs outside of our borders.
The USAID/EMIRGE program has taken the initiative to conduct an investigative study to determine the percentage loss and formulate recommendations to reduce the current crop loss. The findings will be shared with other stakeholders engaged in poverty reduction, ensuring food security of small households in the cooperative development movement development in Rwanda.
Written by: Richard Mujuni, Program Officer, DESIGN team, Uganda
For a greater part of March 2016, the USAID/DESIGN team was in central Uganda’s District of Mubende working on a survey among farmers. As we kicked off the exercise, I quickly came to appreciate just how pervasive cooperatives were in all parts of the area we visited.
It has been part of our strategy to hold lively discussions with the communities we visit to grasp the bigger picture of issues affecting the livelihoods of people in the district. We found that some of the issues that affected incomes and livelihoods ranged from negative events such as marriage breakups and unbalanced gender perceptions to enabling factors such as access to education, land, assets, and markets. We also discussed the nature of income generating activities in the area, including agricultural activities and their perceived challenges, opportunities, and potential solutions. As a participant, I picked two important lessons from which I asked myself, “Why aren’t cooperatives flourishing in Mubende?”
My first lesson was on resources. In all five of the communities we visited, farmer after farmer reported surprisingly high yields in the past seasons. Farmers indicated they had harvested between 10 to 50 metric ton bags of either maize or beans! This is really high volume compared to where I live in the South. We understood this to be due to the availability, accessibility, and fertility of land/soils present in the district. This was also because personal land holdings ranged from 3 acres to more than 10 acres per household! This is much higher that we have experienced in Southwestern Uganda.
My second lesson was about the market advantage among the people of Mubende. Mubende is located just under 200 kilometers from Kampala, the capital of Uganda (and a population of over 4.5 million people), which is the center for the Great Lakes region trade. While I was completing the survey, long lines of lorries from Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan could be seen loading tons of both beans and maize for export. The geographic advantage for the people of Mubende was huge!
While all of this presented a good picture of the potential for farming operations in Mubende, all is not well in the agricultural sector, according to farmers. Some of the challenges they expressed included the exploitation by middle men – these are large, capital sole proprietors who deal in buying agricultural produce from farmers in rural areas, usually at the dawn of harvesting. In reality, these ‘would be’ friends of farmers were found to be proving otherwise. They use manipulated weighing scales and they unilaterally breach contracts made with farming groups, entirely shifting the marketing costs to farmers, exaggerating post-harvest quality losses, and then use it as a basis of offering low prices for the produce.
There were a few collection centers spread over the five areas visited that served as bulking centers, not for farmers but for shrewd middle men and their agents, which, by all measures, do not represent a standard post-harvesting and handling facility. For the architects of this plan, it is a strategy to block competition from other ‘more fair’ buyers, and to suffocate the organic birth of the cooperative spirit and practices. The agents monitor farming operations from a close range and sign pre-harvesting contracts with farmers characterized by monetary advances and terms of which are determined according to the financial needs of the farmer at the time, including school fees, medical crises, and food needs at home.
In summary, one can only be optimistic that the scenarios in Mubende can motivate the growth of cooperative behavior amongst farmers and lead to debates and research into better ways of fast-tracking sustainable production – marketing linkage models that guarantee the safety of farming operations in a surrounding of opportunities and threats as observed in Mubende district.
Written by: Richard Mujuni, Program Officer, DESIGN team, Uganda
One of the major impediments to growing cooperative structures in Uganda is born from the multipurpose nature of our umbrella organizations. For example, in Mubende (just west of Kampala), there is the Mubende Growers Union, but this union contains diverse enterprises like coffee, beans, maize, and other produce grown in Mubende. A close assessment of this arrangement exposes the weaknesses and deficiencies of cooperative unions. In their current and complex settings, these unions find it difficult to adequately address individual value chain challenges and, hence, remain only unions in name and ineffective in addressing most cooperative challenges.
I recently had the opportunity to understand these challenges when I was working in Mubende on a program survey. In speaking with community members about unions, it made me think about our program, DESIGN, and its challenge of how to work with stakeholders to strategically affect the cooperative movement in Uganda and to help move from multipurpose to value chain specific unions. I believe this specialization will strengthen farming operations of these cooperatives from access to quality inputs to value addition and stronger marketing terms.
Earlier in the year, while on a learning trip in Kigali, note was made of the differences in the structures of cooperatives in Rwanda and Uganda in terms of how the cooperative movement is organized. In Rwanda, the cooperatives are structured /organized according to specific value chains from the grassroots where they have primary producer cooperatives, then on to district-based marketing unions and, lastly, national federations. The national federations forum was referred to as the national confederation of cooperatives.
In Uganda, the structure is quite different with the primary producer cooperative societies at the grassroots level and the marketing unions at the district level; they both may engage in more than one value chain. In specific value chains like coffee and milk, the primary societies and unions are specialized, but do not have the national federation level. In some cases in Uganda, instead of unions at the district level, there is another tier of marketing cooperatives known as the Area Cooperative Enterprise (ACE), which is based at sub-county levels and handles more than one value chain. At the national level, all of these cooperatives are free to federate to the Uganda Cooperative Alliance (UCA).
On the other hand, the Rwanda cooperative structure provides for better specialization and segregation of roles and responsibilities at each level, enabling cooperators and the government to concentrate on value chain specific challenges and solutions leading to increased access to quality seed, fertilizer, improving post harvesting and handling services, formal marketing practices manifested by contract signing, and partnership agreements across a wide range of cooperatives. The Ugandan case is still less specialized and organized, so the UCA remains a good apex cooperative umbrella, albeit with unclear members and roles. Looking at the areas visited so far, including the post-Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict Lira district, the revision of the cooperative structure in Uganda will accelerate the revival of cooperatives in the greater part of the country and will help diversify areas of cooperation, facilitate complimentary actions between government programs and the cooperative agenda, ease research and monitoring for cooperatives, and guide policy formulation and support.