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Lesotho women prosper from pigs and poultry

The Phecha Mphelise Association collectively owns over 5,500 layers (© Tsitsi Matope)
The Phecha Mphelise Association collectively owns over 5,500 layers
© Tsitsi Matope

The Phecha Mphelise Association, comprising 20, fiercely-determined women rearing poultry and pigs is one of Lesotho's cooperative success stories. Situated in the tiny village of Phecha close to Lesotho's capital Maseru, it was established in 2009, an enterprise born out of desperation. With half its members single mothers, the women realised the need for collective efforts to create a sustainable supply of chickens, eggs and pork to a formal market that, for years, had shunned local farmers due to their unreliability. But, by coming together for bulk purchase of feed and for group marketing, the women transformed their production, reliability and income, and were recently awarded further funding to expand their business.

Cooperatives remain one of the best ways of initiating community-based enterprises, but are risky undertakings if all members are not fully committed to the group. As far back as 2007, the women had separately established chicken and pig-rearing enterprises, but had faced major challenges, the biggest being buying feed that was only sold in bulk, which individual households could not afford. They also had little knowledge of how to run their businesses professionally so that their produce could be accepted on the formal market.

"I was forced to underprice my broiler-chickens, while all my pigs died due to lack of knowledge on how to properly rear them," says Mamotsabi Mokoteli, a mother of three. Two years later, she was still struggling to earn meaningful profit, despite adapting her marketing to focus more on supplying her neighbours. However, she also noticed there were other, equally struggling poultry and pig-farmers in the area, including Mosela Khabele, who subsequently became chairperson of the Association. "I was keeping less than 100 layers then," says Khabele. "My biggest challenge was how to penetrate the formal, local market and become a trusted supplier. I realised that with my small operation, there was no way I could achieve that."

Opportunities in cooperation

In what seemed like a hopeless situation, the women recognised that opportunities could be gained by merging their operations with those of fellow farmers. In 2009, the women formed and registered their association, initially starting with 700 layers, 1,000 broilers and 18 pigs, and adopting the motto 'We will survive'. They started holding weekly meetings to plan and coordinate production activities and worked together in sorting the eggs, packaging, and marketing them. All the sales income was banked and members paid at the end of the month depending on their contribution. "Our biggest success was being able to buy feed in bulk, something like eighty 50kg bags, every week," says Khabale. "Our production level has since increased tremendously."

The Association has been ear-marked for US$14,000 to strengthen its operations (© Tsitsi Matope)
The Association has been ear-marked for US$14,000 to strengthen its operations
© Tsitsi Matope

However, sustaining the professional running of such a project was one of the major challenges the group faced. Most of the women had no training in poultry and pig-rearing or in business skills. Approaching several government Ministries for assistance, in 2010 and 2011 they received training on key areas, including book-keeping and animal health. Every week, the group now sells 200 chickens to a local mineworkers' association, chicken and pork to several Maseru butcheries and eggs to local supermarkets and street vendors. Smart packaging and labeling of the eggs and meat have made their products more appealing. Collectively, the Association now owns 5,500 layers, 2,700 broilers and 50 porkers, with the latter slaughtered twice a year for sale.

Innovation and success

Four women are currently responsible for marketing the Association's produce, but others help spread the word through phone calls and Facebook advertising, in order to widen the customer-base. "That strategy is working," says Mpho Mahlala, one of the marketing representatives and proud owner of 300 layers. "We believe the worst is over because we have managed to create our own special market. Through knowledge sharing, we finally got it right," she adds, emphasising that their success has been down to a combination of capacity building and hard work. Every month, with the Association collectively earning an average of US$10,600, each farmer takes home between US$230 and US$1,500.

In July 2012, the group qualified for funding from the Smallholder Agriculture Development Project (SADP), a government initiative supported by the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which aims to improve the competitiveness of 6,000 smallholder farmers in four districts. The Association has been ear-marked for US$14,000 to strengthen its operations, in recognition of its innovation and success so far. The money will help in the purchase of egg-sorting and egg-tray manufacturing machines and additional cages for the chickens, but beyond this, the group also dreams of raising enough money to buy its own hatchery. Three years after creating their Association, the women's lives have been transformed from despair to hope, and while their motto may target survival, more than that, they are prospering.

Written by: Tsitsi Matope

Date published: November 2012

 

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