A key part of Self Help Africa’s work is in supporting Africa’s smallholder farmers to organise, and then to facilitate links to local, regional and international market opportunities that can enable them to increase their income and move out of poverty.
In Ethiopia, for example, our cooperative development programme has supported a range of cooperatives and unions to address the fundamental problems of increasing agricultural production and productivity against water scarcity, rainfall dependence and market instability for smallholder farmers.
One of the organisations we’ve supported is the Meki Batu Fruit and Vegetable Grower Farmer Cooperative Union, established in 2002 in Oromia as the first irrigated farmer cooperative union in the country. The union aims to sell its members’ produce to local and foreign markets; supply agricultural inputs and credit; deliver market information; and provide training and support to member farmers.
From an initial 12 cooperatives with 527 members, there are now 135 cooperatives in the union with almost 7,000 individual farmer members. The union produces over 50,000 tonnes of vegetables and fruits, which are supplied to local market outlets as well as exported to Djibouti and Holland.
Hybrid maize seed production is also carried out by the union, meeting 68% of regional seed demand in what is a competitive and lucrative business. Overall the union’s capital base has increased 60-fold over eight years.
Self Help Africa provided capital for the union to start up, for irrigation pumps and to support the building of warehouses; to provide equipment or seed to farmers, to contribute to staff salaries and training in management, planning and leadership, as well as developing its value chain. The union now operates independently with no further direct support from Self Help Africa.
Our experience in Ethiopia and elsewhere suggests that cooperatives are stronger and more resilient when they are linked to viable commercial opportunities.