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Cooperative Export Marketing Brings Farmers On-Board

by Wangah Wanyama
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By Daniel Karibwije

Cooperatives level the playing field giving farmers a seat at the table. In a world with middlemen (and middle women) calling shots, it is about time farmers take charge of their destiny. There is power in production and it is the farmer that delivers coffee, tea and most agro-export products. However, they take home peanuts at the expense of crafty middle-men who decide prices. Small scale farmers are at the mercy of local buyers who adulterate quality.

Cooperative export marketing brings farmers under one umbrella. Leadership of the cooperative is tasked with marketing produce and getting the best possible prices. The forces of demand and supply come into play. A well-established and proactive leadership works in the best interest of organized farmers.

It is important that the cooperative is structured at 3 levels comprising; members, the board and executive committee to provide leadership and staff hired to handle the daily operations. Each level must perform its role and like a family work in harmony. All organs are important. Staff with the right skills and attitude must be fully committed to the mission and vision.

Cooperative export marketing requires networking and research on the best market entry strategies. Expectations need to be realistic on which markets are feasible and those that remain work in progress. Finding export markets is not the real problem. The gist of the matter is ensuring sustainable production of exports with the expected quality first and quantity second.

With experience, cooperatives will sign long term contracts in lucrative markets. A single business person can fly overseas on a trade mission and meet prospective buyers with interest in Uganda’s pineapples. However, without deep grassroots and a supply chain network of farmers trained to meet the market standards, opportunities do not reach the desired recipients.

Integrity and transparency by the leaders of cooperatives are key determinants for success. Cooperative export marketing gives importers assurance that volumes will be met. The composition of cooperatives is a boost to fair trade guaranteeing better prices. Cooperatives are composed of male, female and youthful farmers working for the economic growth of local communities. Today’s consumers are keen on connecting products with faces tilling the garden. Brand marketing opens opportunities for cooperative societies.

Collective marketing reduces risks for small farmers who are illiterate and lack sophistication. It amplifies their voice. The per unit cost of marketing, attending trade fairs or being part of outward missions searching for export markets is greatly reduced. The game of numbers is an important boost because you need to be absolutely sure of the produce source. It gives the cooperative leadership confidence when they have 5,000 registered farmers committed and driven to produce a specific amount of milk to meet an export order. Value addition becomes a reality and banks are more willing to lend money to a cooperative than one individual farmer with no following.

Value addition opens market opportunities fetching better prices for small farmers. Exploitation of rural farmers is eliminated since they are protected by the democratic leadership and management team working in the best interest of the group. Cooperatives keep records of individual farmer produce. The contribution and labour of individuals is recognized. Small farmers get inspired through peer-to-peer learning in the cooperative and together work as a team to achieve desired objectives. A small farmer trying to sell and market individually will get exploited in pricing. Group cohesion and bulk storage in standard conditions brings the farmer’s voice into decision making with marketing benefits shared by all.

The Writer is an Export Trade Specialist

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