Farmers' organizations - the missing link
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CTA. 1997. Farmers' organizations - the missing link. Spore 70. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48818
It is a proven fact - there is strength in numbers. Take a look at any successful economy and you will find that much of the driving force comes from group activity. From teachers' unions to women's co-operatives, people from all backgrounds find...
It is a proven fact - there is strength in numbers. Take a look at any successful economy and you will find that much of the driving force comes from group activity. From teachers' unions to women's co-operatives, people from all backgrounds find new strength in working together. But farmers' organizations are often few and far between because, until recently, farmers in ACP countries have not been encouraged to form themselves into groups which can represent their interests. This omission has been the missing link in our development strategy. Kenya's present economic climate offers farmers many opportunities. The government is liberalizing the economy and the reduction in price regulation means there has never been a better time for people-based initiatives. Farmers should join together to take advantage of these new openings and the role of the Kenya National Farmer's Union (KNFU) is to help them do that. The organization lobbies both politicians and members of the private sector with a view to influencing government policy and trade. Our main aim is to persuade those that are in influential positions to see and understand things from the farmers' point of view. Having travelled widely in Africa I am disappointed to see that farmers' organizations are not increasing faster. The KNFU would like to see a situation where every farmer, in every African country, is a member of a strong farmers' organization. That would then open up the possibility of linkages between farmer groups in different countries so that our views can be understood from the national to the Pan-African political level. For instance, we in Kenya already have linkages with the Zimbabwe National Farmers Union and with some other farmers' organizations in Africa. But it is still not enough and we need to also have linkages with the major political organizations in Africa. We need to develop a united front within the farming community - and we are not going to achieve that if only a few countries are able to organize themselves and create groups that can represent and speak for the farmer. There are obstacles that stand in the way of forming successful farmer organizations, the main one being funding. The KNFU is not a commercial organization and membership is voluntary. The organization depends on the ability of farmers to pay a subscription which is relevant to the size of farm. if you have a big farm you pay more, in the form of a small levy based on your turnover. Il you have a small farm, you pay less. Despite this, the funding that we receive is often way below what is needed to sustain an organization such as ours. What we believe should be done is to develop a national policy that will make it easier for farmers to group themselves and to pay their subscriptions. That happens with a trade union movement and through government trade union Acts members are able to facilitate payments from their salaries. We believe farmers need a system that is supported by the appropriate legislation whereby members can authorise their marketing organizations to make subscription payments on their behalf. Our principal aim is to make more farmers more successful. Farmers' organizations help to reduce the duality of agriculture - lessening the divide between very big professional farmers and small subsistence farmers. The KNFU is a completely democratic institution: every farmer has the same privileges, regardless of the subscription paid. We feel that rural institutions should be strengthened to mobilize resources, and that these resources should remain in the rural areas and not be siphoned away, to disappear into the cities. There should be institutions that can capture the resources that are available for farmers, and then plough them back into development. One of the main challenges facing small-scale subsistence farmers, as well as the bigger professional farmers, is the need to reach markets. This can be done much more successfully by working as a group. For example, dairy farmers need to come together to organize milk collection, cooling, storage and transport. By mobilizing their resources, and putting these infrastructures in place, farmers can make the most of their produce, whatever it is, and be in a better position to sell it successfully. The most successful cooperative movements are not only supported by farmers, but are also owned and controlled by them. In the past there has always been a strong government presence in agriculture, but in Kenya a change is taking place and the government is increasingly leaving farmers to run their industry by themselves. This is the only way we are going to make things happen in the future. In Africa we are faced with a situation where there is no alternative other thon for farmers to work together if they want to survive. There are many opportunities appearing for farmers as governments liberalize their economies. In Kenya we have seen this particularly in the horticultural industry as production and exports of fresh vegetables, flowers and fruit have increased dramatically. In addition there are opportunities for adding value by processing or just by more attractive packaging and by developing a brand image for our products. But the big challenge for farmers is to produce the right product of the required quality in the right quantity at the right price. Again, this is where farmers' associations can help their members by providing some of this marketing information and even some marketing services. Power or influence in the market place is often a reflection of size, and individual members can benefit from greater size by grouping together. We have had considerable experience of cooperatives in Kenya and we would like to see these expanded to cover more commodities and to have more activities. In the past, there has often been a government presence in our cooperatives; but now that the government is leaving farmers to run their own associations, this is a very important time for us. [caption to illustration] Joseph Waweru is the Chief Executive of Kenya s National Farmers Union. Mr Waweru holds a degree in agriculture from Makerere University and a post-graduate diploma in Agricultural Economics from the University of Wales, UK. Prior to joining the Union as its Chief Executive in 1978, he worked as the head of the farm management department of the Ministry of Agriculture. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA