Escaping poverty

Bank transfers from Parmalat

A dairy cooperative in Zambia’s Copperbelt helps women escape poverty. It supplies milk to a multinational corporation, but is keen on adding value on its own.

The Fisenge Business Dairy Co-operative Union was started by women in 2008. According to a recent census, the 400 co-operative members now own about 4000 cattle. Though the co-operative was created for women, widowed men and orphaned boys are allowed to join when female members die.

Fisenge is a small urban location near the town of Luanshya. Copper mining used to be the region’s main industry. Many people were plunged into poverty when Binani, a foreign investor, pulled out in 2000. Local women started the dairy co-operative to create new livelihoods.

Women own the herds, but they are kept on farms that are mainly registered in the names of their husbands. “My husband owns the farm, but he has to think twice before divorcing me because my dairy cattle have created a good cash flow to our household,” says a co-operative member.

A farmer donated the first ten cows. Later, Heifer International, the Arkansas-based charity, gave the women another 20 animals. Today, the co-operative supplies milk to Parmalat, the multinational dairy giant. The payments are done through a bank.

The co-operative sells its members milking cans and stock feed. It also provides bicycles, so dairy farmers can bring the goods to the depot. It has even acquired two tractors, which are hired out to farmers to earn extra income beyond the milk business.

“We have decided to add value ourselves,” says Eric Kapuka, the co-operative’s accountant. The most recent investment was to build a processing plant. It will package in 0.5-litre sachets which are meant for end consumers. To run the new facility, the co-operative hired a production manager, a machine operator and a sales lady.

Effarta Jele is a founding member of the co-operative union. “From milk sales, I have educated several of my children, including one who studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.” She is the first ever female board member of the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU) and is keenly interested in promoting dairy farming in this context.

Humphrey Nkonde is the assistant to the editor-in-chief at Mission Press and media researcher based in Ndola, Zambia.

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