The LIVES project team and steering committee members recently traveled to Kenya see what they could learn from Kenya’s well-developed small scale horticulture and dairy industries. The group comprised delegates from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Regional Bureaus of Agriculture, Regional Agricultural Research Institutes, Regional Livestock Agencies, and staff from IWMI and LIVES headquarters.
One of our visits was to the Sabasaba Agribusiness Cooperative in Central Kenya’s Murang’a District. The cooperative has a small office next to a rather dusty but busy road. As we had arrived on a market day the office held piles of green bananas dropped off by farmers earlier that morning.
Our large group of 22 managed to somehow squeeze themselves amongst the bananas to sit on chairs that the Cooperative staff had kindly set up. We received a warm welcome from Mr. Alex Kamau, Chairman of the Committee and a farmer himself. He told us how the Cooperative started as a self-help group in 2004 and went on to become a Cooperative in 2009, now boasting 120 active members, out of which 57 are women. He told us that their goal is to have 1,000 members by the end of 2014 and that Sabasaba is led by 5 democratically elected committee members. Alex proudly explained that the 1 acre plot used by the Cooperative is owned by the members and was bought with a loan of 1 million shillings that has long been paid off.
The main business of the Cooperative is bananas and trying to ensure the sustainability of the market and the quality of the bananas. The Cooperative originally aimed to empower and transform farmers to make them more profitable, ethical and prudent in terms of business. Alex explained how an NGO called Africa Harvest provided them with tissue culture banana which is more economical and disease resistant than traditional bananas.
The Cooperative’s manager explained how wholesale buyers call and let her know how many bananas they need and then deposit funds in the Cooperative bank account the same day. She then contacts farmers and instructs them to deliver bananas to Sabasaba before 10 am on the next market day. Once the bananas have been weighed and quality checked, funds are deposited into the farmers’ bank accounts, less the Cooperative’s 1 shilling/kg commission (by 4 pm the same day!). No cash is handled at the Cooperative office. It uses Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile payments system for all transactions. At the moment, the Cooperative sells 20 tons of bananas a month and has targeted 50 tons/month for 2014. An annual audit of income is conducted and reported to members.
Sabasaba’s management has now decided to go a step further and introduce value added products such as ripened bananas, banana crisps, and banana flour (from green unpeeled bananas). This is done on a very small scale at their current (and rather small) location but they plan to expand in the future as it appears that the value added products fetch higher profits. In their operations however, they do face a lot of challenges in terms of capacity building needs, lack of ICT, transportation issues and security but are looking for ways to address these issues.
One of the committee members (all of whom are banana farmers of course) Mrs. Esther Munyua (whose farm we had actually visited) then gave the group a very stern explanation why they need to consume bananas on a daily basis. She told us the list of nutrients that bananas are packed with and stated that in Kenya, a common saying is ‘one banana a day keeps the doctor away’! It’s obvious that not many dare disagree with her, perhaps the same reason she was chosen to be the treasurer for the Cooperative!
Sabasaba obviously has managed to put a system in place where all 3 parties benefit – the farmers, the wholesalers and the Cooperative itself. Of course, the fact that Kenya’s banking system is quite developed plus the fact that most of the farmers in that area have received some sort of formal education helps but the group was quite sure that we could take some lessons from Sabasaba and find a way to replicate at least some aspects of it in Ethiopia.