Every day at 5 am, Steady Chisenga wakes up, cleans his milk parlour, washes his milking utensils, prepares his cows and collects an average of 60-65 litres of milk from his six cows.
By 7.30 am Chisenga and his son have loaded the milk onto their bicycles and then cycle 15 kilometres to Choma Dairy Co-operative Union, located in southern Zambia, where they have been members since 2011. Father and son line up with other small-holder farmers to sell their milk.
Smith Mudenda is another farmer and a board member of Mutandalike Co-operative located on the outskirts of Choma. Mutandalike Co-operative boasts 115 smallholder dairy farmer-members, and 80 of them deliver milk every morning and evening to Mudenda. He then hires a small van to take the milk to the Choma co-op where it is chilled, bulked, and sold.
Whether they come by bicycle or car, Choma caters to all farmers. SNV works with this co-operative and others similar to it to ensure they go beyond mere bulking and chilling. These co-ops also bring services closer to farmers by brokering relationships among co-operatives, farmers, and suppliers.
“I enjoy being a member of Choma Co-operative because it offers the best price for milk in the area and it sensitizes us farmers on how to keep our milk and utensils clean so that we produce better quality milk,” says Eddie Pampile, another smallholder farmer. Choma pays more money because it trains farmers on how to produce better quality milk. Chisenga also values his co-op membership because he has access to inputs such as maize meal and veterinary drugs on credit. He then pays off his bills at the end of the month when Choma pays farmers for their milk.
"Farmers are not poor people", says Dr. Sue Ellis, SNV country director in Zambia. “It’s just the environment around farmers that can make them feel poor,” she says. “Small steps such as sensitizing them on how to produce quality milk, and increasing access to inputs and financial services allow farmers to be more productive and improve their livelihoods.”
In addition to increasing input and financial services by working with co-operatives, SNV builds the capacity of co-op employees and members to operate effectively. Co-operatives are made of farmers who have come together to collectively benefit from different markets, inputs and financial opportunities. However, the farmers who own the co-operatives may not have the skills to run them as enterprises and ensure their profitability.
SNV is also supporting Monze Dairy Farmers Co-operative which is opening a training centre in southern Zambia. At an affordable price, farmers will receive training on business management and dairy production to increase efficiency, production and productivity. Through these trainings, farmers will be better equipped to run their dairy farms as well as their off-farm business—the co-operative—as profitable, sustainable businesses.
The world marked International Co-operative Day 5 July with the theme “Cooperative Enterprises Achieve Sustainable Development for All.” “SNV believes people-driven and market-based solutions are keys to ensure that our development strategies are scalable and sustainable,” said Ellis. “Ensuring that farmers and co-operatives are embedded in the market, and have access to training, inputs, and services they need will indeed guarantee that co-operative enterprises will significantly contribute to driving sustainable development in Zambia.”