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Friday, 20 November 2015

Empowering farming communities through cooperatives

By Simon Munyeki and Bob Aston
Although Laikipia County is an arid area, this has not stopped its residents from taking farming seriously, as it is their main source of income. To make this enterprise profitable farmers from the region have formed Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society.
Located at Gikomba Hills Complex in Sipili Township, Ol-Moran Ward in Laikipia West Sub County, the cooperative 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).
Some members of the cooperative being trained on good agricultural practices

The cooperatives mandate is to aggregate the farming communities by pooling them together and empowering them to take control of their farm’s enterprises thus enhancing their bargaining power and profit margins.

The cooperative has partnered with stakeholders like ALIN, SNV- Netherlands Development Organization, Kenya Seed Company Ltd, MEA Ltd, Kilimo Biashara Promoters, Eastern African Grain Council (EAGC), Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP), Norbrook Kenya Ltd, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock has enabled the cooperative to undertake a lot of activities on behalf of the members.
Through collaboration with various stakeholders, the members have been able to benefit through various capacity-building trainings aimed at improving their agricultural enterprises.
Members share their cooperative experiences
Mrs. Naomi Ngonyo joined the cooperative in 2013 with the belief that access to subsidized government fertilizer will no longer be a problem for her as an individual farmer. 
In early March, she received an SMS from the cooperative management informing members to register for subsidized government fertilizer.
Although she was skeptical at first that the initiative would not succeed, she went ahead and registered for ten bags of subsidized government fertilizer. 
The same month she received an sms from the cooperative informing her that the subsidized fertilizer was available and she should visit the cooperative store to collect the fertilizer.
“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 saved a lot of money and time going to Nyahururu to look for the subsidized,” said Naomi Ngonyo
The cooperative stand during 2015 Laikipia County Agribusiness trade fairs
On his part, Mr. James Mathenge joined the cooperative in February 2014, when he was passing by the cooperative store and he saw a van unloading bags of certified hybrid maize seeds.  LRV documented the story titled “curiosity leads a farmer to joining a cooperative.”
Issue of certified hybrid seeds, advisory services and buying subsidized government fertilizer from the Co-operative are some of the things that encouraged him to join the Co-operative.
Since joining the cooperative, he has been buying certified hybrid seeds and subsidized government fertilizer without any problem. He is happy that for two season he has not had any problem with fake seeds as the cooperative has been selling genuine seeds directly from Kenya Seed Company Ltd and Pioneer Hi-Bred Ltd.
“This year I received five bags of subsidized government fertilizer from the cooperative. Getting the subsidized government fertilizer used to be a big problem but this year it was not an issue,” said Mr Mathenge.
High storage cost for cereals has always been a challenge for Mr. Simon Hehu. He feared that quality of his cereals would deteriorate after some time and fear of aflatoxin accumulation in storage usually makes him spend a lot of money in buying pesticides.
In August this year he was informed that the cooperative had entered into a distributorship deal with Bell Industries Ltd to supply Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags. After hearing the various benefits of the bag such as minimizing cost of storage and reduced post-harvest-grain losses, he realized that the bags would address his main challenges during storage.
The good news has made him plan to buy more bags for storing his grains once they dry. He said that he would no longer buy insecticides for storing grains as he has confirmed that the bags are effective.
Subsidized government fertilizer being offloaded to the cooperative store
Mrs. Jane Ndiritu a member of the cooperative was among the first farmers to benefit through an initiative of ALIN, Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society, Kenya Seed Company Ltd, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and MEA Ltd.
The cooperative forwarded her name as one of the farmers to host a demonstration plot. 
Since then she has gained a lot of knowledge from several trainings organized at the demonstration plot and other trainings organized for members of Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society.
This year marked the second year when she has bought certified hybrid seeds from the cooperative. She noted that it is safer to buy seeds from the cooperative due to guaranteed germination and lower prices.
“Access to certified hybrid seeds used to be a problem in Sipili. We used to buy fake seeds but now that is no longer a problem. The cooperative has enabled smallholder farmers like us to stop worrying about seeds,” said Mrs. Nderitu.
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 but this is not the case with Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society, as more farmers are enjoying the benefit of being members.
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