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news | April 22, 2014 | Yemen | Development

Reviving cooperative spirit tackles the vicious cycle of poverty

Cooperative in Raymah governorate, Yemen

Agricultural production is a key priority in ACTED’s regions of interventions, where many people rely on the production and trade of crops for food security. Agricultural cooperatives play a crucial role in providing services that help build farmers’ skills and strengthen their production capacity. Building the capacity of agricultural cooperatives and enhancing the support they provide to farmers, is a key activity for ACTED teams in Yemen, with the support of USAID/OFDA.

The Tomato Leafminer disaster

Ten years ago, disaster struck Hodeidah's Zabid district – the Tomato Leafminer moth destroyed that year's tomato harvest, a crop on which local farmers overwhelmingly rely. Simultaneously, heavy rains and floods washed away topsoil, livestock, and homes, leaving many families without income or means to generate it.

At the time, communities worked together to rebuild houses and received a one-off emergency payment from the government, but farmers had no support. Like many others plagued by such hazards (which often reoccur yearly), this trapped farmers in a long-term downswing in economic security from which they have struggled to release themselves since.

For farmers, less income means fewer seeds to plant for the following season, leading to lower yields and, subsequently, less income still. ACTED’s teams have been providing vulnerable farmers with seed inputs to help disrupt this cycle, whilst building the capacity of local agricultural cooperatives. Indeed, by providing outreach and extension services, cooperatives help reduce the impact of such disasters.

Reviving cooperatives

At the start of the intervention, ACTED found that many cooperatives in the target areas had little capacity to provide services to their members due to the limited resources and knowledge of their staff. As a result, the cooperatives struggled with low community participation.

However, it quickly appeared that all the cooperatives participating in the project were eager to identify ways of better serving their communities. They expressed a desire to function as community associations with a regular and active membership base who would, in return for a symbolic monthly payment, receive assistance for agricultural production, livestock rearing, training and vocational activities for women.

Encouraging women’s involvement in cooperatives

To build on their strong motivation, ACTED teams prepared a detailed - plan to help strengthen each of the six participating cooperatives. Many have attended the trainings, with an especially high level of cooperative women staff members in a case where women did not usually participate in similar activities in the past. In some courses, women even outnumbered their male colleagues.

To encourage the cooperatives to further increase women’s involvement in cooperatives work, ACTED teams got in touch with the Yemeni Ministry in charge of overseeing vocational training for women. After discussing with local cooperatives, a partnership is now being set up to provide vocational training activities for women.

Finally, to make sure that cooperatives maintain their efforts in the long term, small grants of $1,500 each will allow the cooperatives to build their capacity and highlight to local communities the benefits provided by their services.

An increased level of initiative

Since the start of ACTED’s project, the revival in cooperative members' spirit has been demonstrated by the level of initiative shown by cooperative staff. Since the completion of their training, each cooperative has adopted plans for outreach activities that will target not only male farmers, but also women through vocation trainings such as handicrafts. More job opportunities for women and other vulnerable people means greater diversification of the local economy, and a greater boost to local incomes.

Some even changed their name to reflect their status as community, rather than simply agricultural cooperatives. Nor does it stop there. Each of the six cooperatives recently approached ACTED, under their own initiative, with proposals to broaden livelihoods development, ranging from rabbit farming to potato processing.

This shows promise for the future of cooperative-supported income generation, and there are more plans afoot – next on the agenda for one cooperative in Hodeidah governorate is literacy training as a means to qualify staff members and trainers for the future

Click here for more about ACTED's activities in Yemen.