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How farming cooperatives transformed a community

Small holder farmers can find it difficult to market their produce and earn money. As a result, they're forced to sell off their produce at a give-away price, leaving them in perpetual poverty. But new cooperatives between producers and marketers are changing this.

The purpose of these cooperatives is to improve small holder farmers’ access to markets and to create a fair price for goods. This is achieved by the purchase of small plots of land at a price mutually agreed by members.

The cooperatives are also able to buy the various tools and items needed for farming in large volumes, keeping costs for the farmers down.

ActionAid partner the 'Rice Growers Cooperative' is one example of how the system is working.

It has a total membership of 8,952 farmers living in 78 villages across Jahally and Patcharr.

The main aim of the cooperative was to make the best possible use of river water for irrigation, which would allow double cropping during the year.

During 2010, ActionAid The Gambia supported the cooperative with a grant of D500,000 (£12,195).

The money was used to buy 300 bags of fertilizer for 337 farmers and 16 donkey carts and donkeys for 16 female farmers on loan.

Each woman made an upfront payment of D1,500 (£37) and the outstanding balance of D6,000 (£146) will be repaid over a period of 3 years.

Radio panel discussions were held at Brikamaba Community Radio, sponsored by ActionAid, to create community awareness on key issues related to the Rice Farmers Cooperative Society (RFCS).

The cooperative also provided a total of 2,550kgs of varieties of rice and ploughing services for 674 smallholder farmers, who are also supported to process rice, as well as given training on how to improve their techniques.

As a result of this initiative rice is now available and affordable all the year round in the project communities, with an average yield of up to 4 tons/hectares.

The technical expertise provided by the Taiwanese was also a very important factor in this increase.

The tidal irrigation which was used to replace the pump irrigation system used previously has  greatly reduced the production cost, and the government has hired the services of a very qualified and skilled irrigation engineer to open more areas up for the use of tidal irrigation.

As a result of this, seventy per cent of the rice growers, the majority of whom are women, now have access to land for year round rice cultivation. According to the members, most communities have village group bank accounts.

Over 120 women farmers from the Patcharr area have now opened accounts with their Village Savings And Credit Associations (VISACAs).