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Friday, 24 April 2015

Farmers start enjoying the benefit of being members of Laikipia Cooperative

By Bob Aston
The Laikipia Produce and Marketing cooperative society located at Gikomba Hills Complex in Sipili township, Ol-Moran Ward in Laikipia West Sub County emerged from the work undertaken by Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre with the support of the Ford Foundation’s Expanding Livelihoods for Poor Households Initiative (ELOPHI).
ALIN through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre had been working with the smallholder farmers in Laikipia West Sub County by providing information and knowledge products focused on sustainable agriculture, climate change, sustainable land management (SLM), markets and natural resources management (NRM).
Anthony Mugo from ALIN addressing the cooperative members during a past meeting
During interaction with farmers through open learning days, exchange visits and while providing advisory services, the organization learnt that most smallholder farmers experienced a lot of challenges in procurement of farm inputs and in marketing. 
The organization then discussed with the Ng’arua Maarifa Centre focal group members on how best to address the issue of procurement of farm inputs and marketing and it was then that the idea of an organization to champion the interests of smallholder farmers was mooted.
The main idea of forming focal groups is to improve contacts among network members, initiate some joint activities, encourage them to generate and share local development information and experiences.
“Forming the cooperative was a long journey. We first thought of starting a community based organization but later on we decided that a cooperative was ideal and would serve us better,” said Veronica Kemunto, Secretary Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society.
Finally in June 2013 the cooperative was officially registered. With more than 300 members in 2015 the cooperative has now been able to address most of the challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Ol-Moran Ward.
SNV, ALIN, EAGC and the cooperative signing the GBH MOU
“We had to hold a lot of meetings to convince other farmers to join the cooperative. Even coming up with the name required a series of meetings. During this period ALIN was always with us providing guidance and also organizing capacity building trainings,” said Waweru Kanja, Chairman, Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society.
Mr. Kanja noted that although the cooperative is still young they have managed to achieve a lot. He said that the support provided to the cooperative by partners that include; ALIN, SNV- Netherlands Development Organization, Kenya Seed Company Ltd, MEA Ltd, Kilimo Biashara Profilers, Eastern African Grain Council (EAGC) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock has enabled the cooperative to undertake a lot of activities on behalf of the members.
“ We intend to become a leading  farmer   based organization,   increasing  the  wealth  ,food and  nutritional  security  of   small holder  farmers  in  Laikipia  County by empowering smallholder farmers with skills to aggregate farm produce and become agribusiness oriented,” said Mr. Kanja.
Some of the objectives of the cooperative include; to increase  the  number  of  registered   small holder farmers  in  Laikipia West  from   280 to 1000, to   continuously  help link smallholder  farmers  with  a  fair  market  like  Home Grown School Feeding Program (HGSFP) and  reducing  exploitation  by  middlemen, to form  partnership  with  input  producers  in  order  to secure  farm  inputs  at  fair prices  to reduce  production  cost, to open an agro-input store in Sipili with all farm inputs, to open four new branches in the next three years and to increase the society operating capital from 536,000 to 2.5 million by December 2015.
Some cooperative members holding certified seeds
Mr. Kanja noted that the cooperative has already made sales totaling Ksh 7,608,081 through trading in maize and beans, selling of certified maize and bean seeds as well as selling of fertilizer. He said that they are now planning to open an agro shop, agency banking for cooperative, Post Bank and Equity Bank, Safaricom Mpesa and Airtel money agency as well as a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO).
The cooperative’s mandate is mainly to aggregate the farming communities by pooling them together and empowering them to take control of their farm’s enterprises, aggregation of farm produce and collective marketing to enhance their bargaining power and profit margins.
The cooperative is already a Cooperative Bank Agent, Post Bank Mashinani Agent, Pioneer Hi-Bred Agent and the Kenya Seed Company Ltd Agent. The cooperative has also been supported by SNV to become one of its Grain Business Hubs (GBH).The Grain Business Hub model functions as a collective supportive businesses and services that help the production activities of member farmers. It does this through managing the collection, distribution, and marketing of food products, mainly grains, from farmers.
The cooperative stand during 2015 Laikipia Agribusiness trade fairs
“As members of the cooperative we have been able to boost our bargaining power. Through seeds and fertilizer services, the cooperative has been able to control market prices in Sipili township and reduced cases of fake seeds,” Said Mrs. Kemunto.
Despite cooperatives playing a major role in resource mobilization, agro-processing and marketing of agricultural produce, most smallholder farmers particularly in rural areas are always reluctant to join cooperatives due to past experiences with the cooperative movement.
“The notion that most cooperatives are always mismanaged is not true. This year I managed to buy the subsidized government fertilizer through the cooperative. I managed to save a lot of money and time going to Nyahururu to look for the subsidized fertilizer but thanks to the cooperative I was able to avoid the extra cost,” said Naomi Ngonyo, member of Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society.
The Kenyan Co-operative movement is rated first in Africa and seventh (7) globally among the developed movements by the International Co-operative Alliance. The movement has played and continues to empower communities and individuals both socially and economically through wealth creation, food security and generation of employment and therefore alleviating movement.
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