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Ethiopia: Women gain power through cooperative

Women farmers face many obstacles that they need to overcome to become successful business women. But the example of Mashuu and her follow farmers shows that with the right support, female farmers can become strong and independent market players.

Mashuu Baaburi is a pioneer. Upon completion of secondary school in Chefo Umbera, a small village in southern Ethiopia, she noticed her peers marrying at an early age and becoming second, third, and fourth wives. To avoid the same destiny, Mashuu formed a women’s group with her two sisters and a sister-in-law hoping to empower women through family planning education and HIV/AIDS awareness.  In 2000, there were four members - today there are 165.

“As the group started to grow, I realized we needed to do more than raise awareness,” Mashuu says, “We needed to become strong and independent economically.”  And that was how Jalela Primary Cooperative was born. Mashuu, who farms two hectares herself, is the chairlady of the cooperative.

Marketing

Women bring their cereal harvests to Jalela, and the cooperative then sells it to Mira, their local cooperative union. The union sells the aggregated commodities to buyers such as WFP. Before P4P, Jalela sold only low volumes of teff (a local grain) through Mira. But since P4P started, the union is encouraging its member cooperatives to supply more food. Accordingly, Jalela has been selling maize through Mira to WFP since 2010 and plans to continue doing it.

Trainings empower

Through P4P and its partners, Mashuu and her beloved Jalela cooperative received trainings on how to increase their productivity and better store their crops. They now can not only sell their crop for a fair price, but they also receive a cash loan from Mira which enables them to pay farmers on the spot when they collect grain for collective marketing. Thanks to the trainings, Mashuu was able to increase the productivity of her land by using agricultural inputs and embark upon other income-generating activities such as keeping poultry and growing vegetables.

Jalela farmers are now also able to use the union’s quality analysis and post-harvest equipment that had been donated by WFP. Mashuu as chairlady of her cooperative further received training in financial management, market access and networking, and post-harvest management.

2011 and the drought

The 2011 drought-induced crop failure contributed to high market prices and a shortage of marketable produce in Ethiopia.  This caused most cooperatives to default on their supply contracts with WFP as they were unable to provide the tonnage agreed upon. Still, Jalela was able to sell 30 tons of maize to WFP through Mira union. The net profit of ETB 3,000 (about US$ 170) was in part kept for the cooperative and in part distributed to the cooperative members. Mashuu bought inputs for the next farming season and some items for her household from her part of the profit.

Mashuu experienced the difficulties the drought brought in 2011, but she still has high hopes for the future. She is seeking out increased credit services because “there’s an opportunity to buy much more grain in this area to sell to the local cooperative union,” and she can better utilize the training she received through participation in P4P. She also has big plans to build a grain mill, start a dairy production, and even bring electricity to Jalela cooperative.  “We are going to change our lives,” she concludes.

P4P Ethiopia outlook

WFP has donated IT equipment to cooperative unions to strengthen record keeping.  And, as a temporary solution to storage problems, WFP installed eight temporary warehouses and will build five additional warehouses throughout the country in the coming year. P4P is in line with the government’s Growth and Transformation Plan and works very closely with Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency.

Forecasts for the 2012 harvest look much better, and WFP continues to monitor the situation closely. Looking forward in 2012, the P4P programme will focus on linking local markets, strengthening partnerships with other UN and government agencies, promoting improved seed varieties, increasing female participation, and improving farmers’ access to financial services.