By Bett Kipsang’ and Dennis Kipkirui
Cooperatives play an essential role in employment generation, poverty alleviation and food security and are extremely important in the agricultural sector. They supply agricultural credit and funds and have the potential to deliver goods and services in vital areas where state and private sectors have not been able to do very much.
The Ng’arua Co-operative Society (NCS) started in 2001 as a self- help group with only 14 farmers as members. Today it boasts of individual membership of 2000 and an affiliated group membership of 40. Credit for inception has largely been dedicated to one Mr. Irungu, the then Divisional Agricultural Officer, who helped farmers to realize the need for value addition on farm inputs. The group has developed a grand master plan that will propel this farmer’s organisation to revolutionize the economy of Laikipia County.
|Mr. Charles Thuku the factory supervisor inspecting the flour.|
NCS is situated along Nyahururu-Kinamba road in Laikipia County of Kenya, Its main activity is milling of maize flour, production of livestock feeds and supply of farm inputs. It relies on farmers to run its operations. The cooperative provides market for maize which they buy in bulk from farmers.
The co-operative society was transformed in 2008 from a self-help group after increase of membership with support from the ministry of cooperatives and marketing. The society which runs a milling plant currently has an asset base of $ 179,878 (Ksh.15 million). Its capital was largely drawn from resources pooled together by farmers. In its initial stages K-Rep, a micro-finance institution granted them a loan to start the society. The society has also received support from Co-operative Bank and Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE).
The funds have been used for training farmers on maize drying, cereals banking, right seeds selection, value addition and quality of produce. Committee members and employees have also been trained on business and management skills. The funds have also supported building related infrastructure that includes a filling station, an administration complex, and farmer’s shop among others.
The society has a managing committee which oversees the planning and management, the committee meets quarterly to discuss their business progress. The society has a constitution and a strategic plan in place which governs the day to day running of their activities.
The society has employed 19 people and occasionally recruits casual laborers in its operations. All workers are members or immediate family members of share holders. The driving factor behind this is the inculcated ownership in the organisation that makes employees feel the need to work hard to build their institution.
‘It is possible to operate as a cooperative , we can collect cereals from other cooperatives, in the whole county, so we hardly lack supply of raw materials, we want to also venture into cereal banking, says Mr. Charles Thuku, the Manager.
The main challenge has been internal wrangles among members and lack of a proactive support by the government. According to Mr. Charles Thuku who is currently overseeing the operations of the milling plant, these teething problems are largely contributed by the local committees as most of them lack the requisite knowledge of running a co-operative society and are only in leadership by virtue of ownership. He pinpoints cases of some even forcing their hands in recruitment of employees.
On the part of the government, Mr. Thuku indicates that officials don’t visit them regularly and only intervene when the society has problems. They also fail to give regular advice to the society on its growth and general development.
There is evidence of replication of the practice. This is seen from the many small posho (maize flour) mills in the area which mill and sell flour. In addition, a Multi-purpose Farmers Cooperative Society has been started in Sipili as a result of the success noted in Ng’arua Cooperative Society.