As a smallholder farmer, going about your regular farm activities like purchasing inputs, planting and marketing all by yourself might present a lot of freedom but over time it turns out laborious and less profitable.
Dynamics that include failure to get reliable market is among challenges that lone-ranging smallholder farmers face.
However, when tens of farmers came together in cooperative societies or farmers groups, they are able to address many of these problems that include how to find a good market, credit, certified seeds or materials for making feeds.
Erick Ogumo, the chairman of Society of Crop Agribusiness Advisers of Kenya (SOCAA), underscores the importance of farmer groups, noting the most immediate benefit is access to information.
In essence, small-scale farmers benefit from such networks which offer marketing advantages, knowledge and experience sharing and bargaining power in the purchase of inputs.
Ogumo says the groups have enabled farmers to have quick access to information about markets while at the same time they are able to aggregate their produce and bargain for better prices from buyers.
He notes that the proposed Food Crops Act embraces and encourages formation of farmers groups. But the history of cooperative societies such as in the coffee and tea sectors points to the fact that these groups are never a smooth sail.
To survive as chama, members should have training on issues of leadership, governance (which is quite critical), recordkeeping and group dynamism. Appointed leaders should also be committed to the focus and vision of the group. The top leader should be one who shares members’ values. Transparency and accountability remain key.
More importantly, leaders need training on the issue of conflict management as complaints will always arise in a group and how leaders handle them is what matters.
According to Ogumo, the group’s the management structure should be clearly outlined in line with the cooperatives act; in terms of board membership, budgeting, planning and members’ code of ethics.