Around the world, we work with more than 2,800 farmer-owned cooperatives that have hundreds of thousands of members.
The cooperatives we work with vary from country to country. In some places they are extensions of the self-help groups. Similar in size but formally registered. In others, they are far bigger with thousands of members, providing farmers support with animal wellbeing, financing, buying and selling.
Joining a cooperative can bring real value for farmers. They can often negotiate better prices, as they sell greater volumes and guarantee supply, and can help farmers with marketing their products. Some even have their own direct-to-consumer retail stores. As shareholders in the cooperative, farmers are invested in helping one another succeed, which results in more money going back to the farmer, ultimately increasing incomes.
Farmers need strong communities for their businesses to thrive and grow. They provide a platform for locals to share their expertise and resources, creating markets for farmers and jobs for workers.
When we start a project, participants form a local self-help group, together with other people from their community. In some places, these groups already exist, and the group members decide to link up with one of our projects.
Each group contains 20-25 people and meets at least once a month. Together, they save money and build a central fund that’s used to invest in the growth of each other’s businesses.
As the savings increase and the groups strengthen, with specialized support from our field staff, members agree on rules about how to run the group and identify business areas with potential to boost their incomes.
Our teams and partners work and invest alongside the farmers as they grow their businesses. Support from Heifer can include the provision of seeds, livestock and other agricultural supplies, or connections to financing and animal wellbeing experts.
Cooperatives are legally registered entities. This is important, as it gives group members access to government funding and other agricultural services that help farmers to grow their businesses.
With the groups established and the internal governance structures in place, members receive support to register their group as a cooperative, or join an existing one.