Innovation of the Week: Farmers Groups and Cooperatives

Danielle with farmers and representatives of Urban Harvest working together to grow food in Kibera, Kenya (photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Danielle with farmers, and representatives from Urban Harvest, working together to grow food in Kibera, Kenya (photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Co-written by Abby Massey

Just last week in Kibera, Danielle saw firsthand the benefit that small-scale farmers experience by participating in cooperatives or farmers groups (Urban Farming in Kibera, Kenya: Land Tenure, Vertical Farms: Finding Creative Ways to Grow Food in Kibera).  Through a shared plot of land in the middle of the slum, forty farmers are collectively improving their income and diets, receiving training and exchanging knowledge and experience. “The human capital and brain is here, let it be used,” said Nancy Karanja of Urban Harvest, the organization behind the plot of land and other farmers groups around the world.

In Kampala, Uganda, for example, Urban Harvest supports a project called Sustainable Neighborhood in Focus (SNF).  Organizing workshops that encourage safe solid waste disposal, through sorting leftovers, biodegradables, plastics and peelings for recycling, reuse or resale – depending on the product, the project also empowers people to support policies that reduce the negative impact of urban areas on the surrounding environment.

Another  prime example of the impact farmers groups can have is in Oromia, Ethiopia, where  139 cooperatives, including about 617,700 households are involved in the production of Coffee Arabica.  These smallholder growers, processors and suppliers are all part of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU), working since 1999 to bring fair trade, organic coffee to consumers.  Creating a product standard that consumers can trust through regulation of the final product and training, the cooperation also teaches farmers how to maximize their harvest with Intercropping, or planting other crops with the coffee.  As a result, farmers can grow food for consumption or sale in addition to coffee.

With the help of ADCI/VOCA’s Agricultural Cooperatives in Ethiopia (ACE) program, OCFCU was able to directly export their coffee instead of selling their product through the central coffee auction.  Today, because of this and their organic, fair-trade certification, they are able to get $1.41 per lb of coffee.  Since they are involved in a cooperative, everyone involved in the production process is able to get a fair price for their work and products.

Rural Innovation Systems and Networks: Findings from a Study of Ethiopian Smallholders, a case study produced by IFPRI, suggests that networks are important in such a fluid market.  Utilizing local cooperation and governmental involvement, networking will make smallholders stronger and more resistant to market changes.

Cooperatives give power to small-scale farmers, allowing them access to a larger group and a stronger voice. It is amazing that such a simple act–coming together to share information and achieve collective goals–could have such a strong impact.  But, as Nancy Karanja said to Danielle in Kibera just last week, “solutions are so simple, you just have to articulate them.”

Abby Massey is a Food & Agriculture intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project

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