A week ago, the Oruharui Farmers Cooperative rewrote cattle auction history in Okondjatu in the Otjozondjupa region by attracting more than 400 heads of cattle to an auction it organised in partnership with the Okondjatu Farmers’ Association.
This was the highest number of cattle to hit the auction kraals at Okondjatu in recent years, as buyers had for long shunned the place due to apparent low numbers of cattle usually sold there.
For a maiden auction, the showing was impressive for the Oruharui Farmers Cooperative and a dream come true. The journey for the 80-plus members of the cooperative started in 2017 when a Facebook page created to be a central information-sharing platform gained instant popularity. The Facebook page, ‘Communal Farmers Platform,’ was soon converted into a fully- fledged WhatsApp group a few months later.
“The group became very popular with many people participating daily to share ideas on farming-related matters. One farmer would ask a question on some farming issues he is struggling with, and given the collective knowledge that exists in the group, other members would come on board and assist where possible,” cooperative member Lawrence Tjatindi told AgriToday.
Tjatindi, who is also in the interim leadership of Oruharui, said as the different group members engaged on the platform, it became clear that there are several common difficulties farmers encounter in their operations that needed urgent addressing.
Topping the list were complaints on weak prices farmers are forced to market their products at, as it appears the buyer has monopoly on the determination of the price.
“We realised that we needed to find a way to make sure our farmers benefit from their own products. It was discouraging for many farmers that the person buying your product is the one to set the price for it and you would just be a spectator as your hard toil is sold for peanuts,” he stated.
The solution? A farmers cooperative that would propel farmers into fighting for legitimate prices for their animals through the collective marketing of such animals. Soon, Eharui Farmers cooperative was born towards the end of 2020 after several consultative sessions - both virtual and in person amongst would-be members.
“We basically asked those on the group who wanted to be part of the farmers cooperative to say so. After receiving an initial list of names, we had something to work with, and further planning was rolled out from there,” he added.
Eharui has members from various communal areas across central Namibia, spanning from Otjombinde and Aminuis in the Omaheke Region to Otjituuo and Okamatapati in the Otjozondjupa region.
As Tjatindi explains, the strength of the cooperative has been its pool members who bring to the cooperative various skills, experiences and qualifications that have managed to successfully drive Eharui within various farming spheres. Simply put, the cooperative relies on its collective strength in numbers - something that has served it well so far.
“Our main preoccupation now is to fight for better prices and not just by word of mouth, but through action. As shown by the Okondjatu auction, we can surely change the scope of animal marketing if we pool together,” he said.
He noted that all members of the cooperative sold at least two calves at the auction, which increased the number of cattle to be auctioned. Buyers, according to Tjatindi, had not been coming to Okondjatu for auctions because they feared that the livestock was not enough for them to compete amongst each other.
As such, only one buyer would come, and he would set prices according to his budget, For the farmers, it had been a ‘take it or leave it’ situation.
Nollar Tjaimi, Eharui Farmers Cooperative’s vice chairperson, told AgriToday that the cooperative idea has come together well and is already bearing the anticipated results.
“We are capitalising on the fact that each person in the cooperative is prepared to offer assistance - whether in skills set sharing, or otherwise - to advance farming in our areas of operation. The advantages of strength in numbers is surely working for us,” she said.
More plans are in store to grow the cooperative and possibly reach out to more farmers.
“There is definitely more we can do as a collective in improving farming for the communal farmers and others, as we would really like to have farmers themselves benefit from their produce as opposed to someone else who just comes and sets a price on products belonging to others,” stressed Tjaimi.