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Keeping hope alive in peri-urban Zimbabwe

Currently, poultry are the biggest earner for the cooperative (© Busani Bafana)
Currently, poultry are the biggest earner for the cooperative
© Busani Bafana

Despite problems with poor management, leadership crises and variable commitment by members, a cooperative in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo has given some peri-urban farmers a much needed economic boost.

In 2010, after World Vision indicated to the city council that it was keen to support vulnerable residents, 269 farmers, some retired, came together to start a chicken, rabbit and mushroom project. City councillors in seven city wards identified potential members in high density housing areas to be part of the cooperative, which would provide employment and a source of livelihood. World Vision bought building materials and SNV, a Dutch development organisation, in collaboration with a local NGO, Health Excellence, provided crash courses of between two days and one week to cooperative members. These practical courses covered business management, book and record keeping, mushroom growing, and rabbit and poultry keeping.

The Luveve Gumplantation cooperative is managed by a nine-member committee, including specific coordinators for production, processing, sales, marketing and security. The committee works directly with four focal persons for each of its three businesses - chickens, mushrooms and rabbits - who meet every day to oversee the operations. The rest of the members have a duty roster for various activities, such as cleaning the chicken runs, feeding the chickens and rabbits and ensuring that mushroom sheds are damp until the mushroom spawn germinates.

Having peaked at around 200 rabbits in October 2011, more recently the numbers have fallen (© Busani Bafana)
Having peaked at around 200 rabbits in October 2011, more recently the numbers have fallen
© Busani Bafana

"Being a cooperative has been an advantage in that we have more manpower and allocate tasks to each member to ensure operations run smoothly," says Harold Kasuka, head of the rabbit department. "We were able to raise money by making contributions as a group and that became our starting capital." Proceeds from sales are shared among members with a certain sum always put aside for buying stock and for overheads such as chicken and rabbit feeds, security and general expenses.

Water and investment shortage

Manager of the cooperative, Celani Muungani, says the cooperative has demonstrated the potential to generate more money for the majority of its elderly and vulnerable members but it is short of capital to expand operations. "The market for our products is not a problem. In fact we are suffering now because there is so much demand but we do not have the mushrooms or the rabbits to meet orders," she says. Rabbit rearing, for example, was intended to be a main activity of the group, but has been held back by lack of investment.

"We need a huge capital injection to expand the rabbit cages, build more hutches for the does and raise the breeding stock to at least 1,000," says Kasuka. In a good week, two or more rabbits, usually bucks, are sold at US$7, including young ones if customers want to breed them. Hospitals and hotels in the city are keen to buy rabbit meat, which is an important ingredient in some traditional dishes. However, having peaked at around 200 rabbits in October 2011, the numbers have fallen again, with some animals lost during a heat wave.

On realising that the rabbit section was not doing as well as expected, members diversified into breeding broilers for sale. "We diversified to ensure that members do not lose hope, because motivation is important in a cooperative like ours," says Kasuka. Currently, poultry are the major contributor to the coffers, with dressed chicken sold to householders, butcheries and some supermarkets in the city, at US$7 per kilo. However, despite regular sales, more money is needed to cover the high cost of feeds; currently the cooperative has 500 broiler chicks, but lack of feed means that some chicken coops are standing empty at a time when the group should be preparing for their busiest season, Christmas.

A duty roster helps to ensure that tasks such as cleaning and feeding are carried out correctly (© Busani Bafana)
A duty roster helps to ensure that tasks such as cleaning and feeding are carried out correctly
© Busani Bafana

Meanwhile mushroom production has been affected by water shedding announced by the city council in July 2012. The mushroom operation needs 10,000 litres of water per week, which is used to pasteurise the substrate in seven 200-litre drums and for watering the sand in the dark rooms where the mushroom spawn has been planted. "Income from mushrooms has been good, as we packed and sold 1kg for US$2," says Muungani. However, the water restrictions have currently put their operation on hold. In response, some of the members have pooled money to lay pipes to a water point instead of relying on city council bowsers. If successful, the scheme could also enable them to diversity into vegetable production.

Hope is everything

Getting people from different backgrounds to work together voluntarily is never an easy task, says Muungani. "Absenteeism and losing hope are a challenge for some of our members. Most are elderly and poor people, some of whom cannot afford to pay the money we pool together to run the cooperative," she says. Attracting young members has also proved difficult. "We have members whose commitment has kept the cooperative going and passion, together with patience, is important to making cooperatives work. But we are worried that if many of the members die, the cooperative will die with them, if we do not attract new blood," she concludes.

Written by: Busani Bafana

Date published: November 2012

 

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