Today on International Day of Co-operatives I am reminded of the story my grandmother always told me of how her family’s lives had been transformed by a co-operative. She was born in the East End of Glasgow in 1912 – the 5th youngest in a family of 14 children. When her father became no longer able to work in the mines due to chronic asthma, their future looked bleak. Yet her mother (my great grandmother) was a resourceful woman, and so having saved a large dividend by being a loyal customer at the local co-operative store, she withdrew her money and started a family run fish and chip shop. This provided the much needed income required to support the family and also employed some of my gran’s older siblings.
What is a co-operative?
It is unsurprising then, that I’m a strong proponent of the power of the co-operative model. Today the power of co-operatives to transform lives is as strong as ever. Co-operatives are enterprises with fairness and equality at their heart, run by and for their members, whether those members be customers, employees, users or residents. As such, they are often a fantastic vehicle for enabling individuals, through the power of a group to achieve much more than they would otherwise. This makes them a highly desirable and helpful model in developing countries, such as Kenya where 63 per cent of Kenyans earn their livelihood through a co-operative enterprise.
Kambiti East Mango Growers Group
One such co-operative enterprise is the Kambiti East Mango Growers Self Help Group who supply the producer of the Azuri Health dried mangoes we sell at Storimarket. The group of 15 farmers formed in 2013 after struggling to find a market for their fruit. Their focus was on reducing post-harvest losses by sun drying their mango. For two years after they formed they continued to struggle against disease, fruit flies and high rates of rotting during the drying process. But in 2015 they were fortunate to access hands on agronomy training through Yieldwise, an initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation and implemented by Technoserve in Kenya. Chairman of the Group, Patrick explains…
"They trained us on how to take care of our mango trees, how to prune, how to harvest and they taught us how to use these fly traps," said Patrick.
Subsequently Technoserve connected the Group with Village Industrial Power (VIP). VIP is a social enterprise startup which provided the Group with a power plant, which uses agricultural waste as fuel, producing steam which dries 30kg of mangoes in nine hours, compared to the 48 hours it previously took in the sun. This significantly decreases the amount of loss during the drying process.
The impact of becoming a co-operative
So, what has all this achieved? Well, in 2014 the Kambiti East Mango Growers Self Help Group produced 26kg of mango. Now they are producing around 400kg of dried mango per year. In addition, the farmers can sell their dried mango for between three and ten times the price of raw mango. Clearly the Technoserve and VIP inputs have been instrumental in driving this transformation in fortunes.
However, the farmers could not have achieved this as individuals. The power of the co-operative is a significant factor in their success. Growing sufficient mangoes to produce a profitable volume of dried mangoes requires the efforts of all of the members. The cleaning, peeling, slicing and drying of the mangoes to achieve the added value generated by producing their own dried mango is labour intensive, and so each member must contribute their labour. Furthermore, the transformative investment the group received from Technoserve and VIP was secured because as a group they demonstrated that they had the capacity to grow and produce sufficient volumes for the investment to have an impact – something that each individual member was unlikely to achieve alone.
As the farmers of Kambiti East Mango Growers Self Help Group begin to realise the benefits of their five years of hard work, the fifteen farmers involved in the group are at last able to rely on a steady income. This not only benefits the farmers involved, but their families and the wider community too. And each of the fifteen members passes what they have learned on to their farm workers and children, creating an advancement in farming knowledge for generations to come.
We are proud to be supporting Patrick and the farmers in the Kambiti East Mango Grower's Self Help Group by enabling you, the consumer to buy the Azuri Health dried mangoes through a fair and transparent supply chain, which means more money for the farmers, their families and their community. If you want to support their co-operative and enjoy the delicious taste and health benefits of Kenyan Dried Mango, you can find it here.