Cooperative model connects farmers to supermarkets

A farmers’ cooperative has delivered Uasin Gishu farmers from the burden of poor market prices, tripled their earnings and exposed them to market opportunities, in a model that is now being credited countrywide for insulating farmers from market vagaries.

Amid market challenges for agro based products, innovative farmers from Uasin Gishu County have devised a market oriented cooperative society helping them tap into the lucrative markets and registering year round supply.

Started out as a farmers group two years ago under the name Ami Farm, the 50 farmers inspired by the success stories of others in the area had only one aim, to mint millions through agribusiness. However, after two seasons of immense toiling with no returns, the members lost hope with some contemplating on trying out other ventures. Philip Tanui the head of the group narrated that all was not rosy as they had initialized. “We had established a greenhouse but the returns were not good. To make matters worse, the market for our harvest was a hustle. The market leaders could not trust us because we were unreliable and our crops were a bit seasonal and therefore could not sustain the much needed year long supply.”

But a visit by the Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprise (KAVES) after hearing the farmers’ plight changed their plight made the turnaround.  One of the extension officers advised them to form a more focused organization. Based on the tip, the members met and formed farmers’ cooperative society with clear cut plans and policies. Tanui noted that the formation of Master Seed Mararu Cooperative Society was a turning point as it has tripled the growth of their fortunes and multiplied opportunities.

We have divided our group into members of five with every subgroup assigned a crop of their choice. The organization has put into consideration the fact that markets demand a constant supply and to sustain this, the crops are planted in shifts. For instance if a group of five members plants kales this month, then the next five members who are also interested in planting the same crop plants after about five weeks.

According to Tanui, this plan enables them to supply constantly year round without disappointing their market. “It is very difficult to get stable markets especially for us who target large supermarket chains like Nakumatt and restaurant. Therefore having suffered initially, we have laid out procedures that ensure that once we get a client to supply our products, we do not run dry.”  

Knowledge acquisition and exchange is also another front that the cooperative members are embroiled. We have an ultimate goal of uplifting our members and since some members have different projects and also access online tutorials, we encourage exchange of the skills and adoption of modern techniques. The team meets every Wednesday and unlike other cooperative societies, Tanui and his friends meet in their adored office ‘farms’. “We want to inspire each other with what we are doing and therefore organize our meetings in members’ farms where the host show cases for us what he or she is doing.”  

Due to the organizational record books, and growing financial strength, other agribusiness partners are also partnering with them. Currently, the team has over ten acres of land under snow peas. East African Growers has signed a contract with the members to grow the crop and offer them ready market. The firm offered us seeds whose cost is deducted after the sale of the harvests to them. 

Although snow peas are lucrative in the market, Tanui noted that their group members have planted in small sizes of land with some members planting only on a 0.2 acre land due to the labour intensive nature of the crop especially during harvesting. “0.2acre land produces yields amounting to over Sh24000 but because the crop requires more attention and inputs for instance quick harvesting. This is the reason as to why we have adopted it on a small scale and diversified it with other crops.”

For one to join the group, a registration fee of Sh500 is paid and one is required to purchase at least 15 shares each costing Sh1000 over a span of one year. The money according to Tanui helps in the running of the cooperative. The greatest role the group is currently playing is pooling together of harvests and selling the produce as a single entity which helps us to have a higher bargaining power and also ensure that we have constant supply.