A Cooperative Rebuilds Confidence and Livelihoods in Mozambique

Originally published on October 10, 2014.

Few farmers in Mozambique’s Manica province could have predicted the tremendous impact joining a dairy cooperative would have on their lives, considering their resounding skepticism when they were first presented with the opportunity to expand beyond growing crops. And their concerns were completely understandable, considering smallholder dairy farming had never before been seriously attempted in this part of Mozambique, near the Zimbabwean border, and many residents had been burned by their past engagements with cooperatives.

A local farmer happily delivers her milk to the Gondola Dairy Cooperative.
But, after hearing about the successes of the farmers who had worked with Land O'Lakes International Development under the first phase of a USDA-funded Food for Progress Program, which ran from 2008-2012, the fears of many Mozambican farmers were allayed, and clients began enrolling. Through the latest iteration of the program, which runs through 2016, Land O'Lakes will link 4,050 smallholder farmers in Maputo, Sofala and Manica provinces to a commercial dairy value chain. Moreover, through a partnership with Tillers International – which works to preserve, study, and exchange low-capital technologies that increase the productivity of rural communities – innovative farming tools focused on animal traction and transport are being made available to 20,250 farmers. Through the program, Land O’Lakes provides Milk Collection Centers (MCCs) with working dairy infrastructure, such as a cooling tank and generator, to ensure the constant flow of uninterrupted power needed to keep their milk fresh, and each member with a cow and training in dairy farming.

“Our biggest challenge in trying to mobilize members was just proving there could be different results through a cooperative system,” explained Marcelino Manuel Francisco, Secretary of the Gondola Dairy Cooperative, which was formed in 2010 and registered as a cooperative in 2011. He explained, “Many of us used to be part of a trading cooperative that was involved with buying and selling products. With that old system, it was mandatory to join, and the income was divided equally among all members, regardless of performance. Now, membership is voluntary, and earnings are commensurate with effort and yields. If you sweat more, you earn more.”

Everyone is united by the fact that we are all dairy farmers with cows, and we’re now working together as real neighbors, sharing ideas and resources, because we know working together will help each of us improve.

Curruissa Zinanga José (Vice President, Gondola Dairy Cooperative)

Despite residents’ reticence to join another cooperative and unfamiliarity with dairy, the farmers were ultimately lured by the promise of having a cow – which was universally recognized as an important asset – and the difficult life they would continue to have just growing crops like maize, cowpeas and cassava for their livelihoods.  Farmers grappled with the fact that insufficient rainfall could quash their best efforts at reaping a good harvest from their crops. Even more confounding, since they were only paid once a season for an entire year’s effort, they struggled with how to ration their limited money.

According to Gondola Dairy Cooperative Vice President Curruissa Zinanga José, “I used to earn about 7,000 MZN ($232) a year from farming crops. I sweated a lot to make ends meet, and to pay for medicine and school fees. But, sometimes, there was simply no more money left, and it placed my family in a very tenuous and vulnerable position.” Curruissa and other Gondola farmers are now making about 5,000 Mozambican Meticals (MZN) in one month alone, about US$165, just from delivering their morning milk. “The extra income has made a huge difference in my ability to care for my family and sleep peacefully at night.”

The Leadership of Gondala Dairy Cooperative (left to right): João Tobias, Castigo Taunde and Curruissa Zinanga
Gondola’s President Jaime João Tobias added, “We’re now actually planning and budgeting for our household needs. Before, there was no planning.  And, even if plans were made, there was no way to achieve them. These days, we’re able to create viable budgets and plans for growth in the years to come.”

Beyond mobilizing members, an equally large challenge for Gondola Dairy Cooperative at the outset was finding a reliable market for their milk. Most farmers had an ever-changing group of customers that they sold their produce to at small markets or at the farm-gate. Without a guaranteed buyer, they often risked having their milk spoil before it could be sold.

That problem was alleviated in large part after Land O'Lakes established a relationship with the processor DanMoz, which agreed to purchase every drop of milk that the farmers’ cows could produce.

Curruissa explained, “Initially, we had an ever-changing group of customers, and engaging in dairy wasn’t providing us with guaranteed income. But, when DanMoz partnered with Land O’Lakes and agreed to buy all of our milk, it significantly raised the confidence of Gondola’s members, and they began delivering more milk to us on a regular basis.”

USDA Program Incentivizes Private Sector
The important role the USDA-funded Food for Progress Program played in developing Mozambique’s nascent dairy industry cannot be overstated, explained the Chairman of DanMoz, Henrick Ellert. One of several partners who collaborated in buying the processing plant in 2012, Ellert noted, “One of our main incentives in purchasing the plant was the existence of the Land O’Lakes program, and knowing that program farmers could provide a growing source for fresh milk.”

Employees at DanMoz prepare for sale packages of yogurt made with project farmers’ milk.
DanMoz is primarily processing yogurt, and to a lesser extent Gouda, Mozzarella, Halloumi and Feta cheeses. The company recently purchased an ice cream machine, as well, in the hopes of expanding into frozen treats later in 2014. DanMoz is also working to expand their geographic footprint into the capital of Maputo and the Tete Corridor – which connects Mozambique to neighboring Malawi – and they’re staffing up and hiring managers to lead their marketing and sales efforts. Indeed, building local demand for a diversity of products will be a key challenge for their new marketing staff.  “Mozambicans tend to like sweet yogurt and ice cream, and so we want to do more to promote milk as a healthy, nutritious option. We’re also looking at infant feeding supplements and think there’s a lot of opportunity on that front,” Ellert noted.

The plant is currently operating at only 10 percent of its 18,000 liter/day capacity, but production is rising exponentially, as Land O’Lakes farmers learn how to increase their animals’ yields with improved nutrition and animal husbandry practices. As of November 2013, they were receiving 1,000 liters a day from farmers supported by the Land O’Lakes program. Another 15 percent of their milk comes from a handful of dairy animals owned by DanMoz that are being raised outside the processing plant, and the remainder is met by expensive milk powder imported from New Zealand and South Africa. “We are trying to encourage farmers to also deliver their evening milk, as this would greatly increase the capacity of DanMoz and improve the incomes of farmers, but right now only one cooperative is delivering in the evening,” added Ellert.

Although DanMoz is not currently providing farmers with bonus premiums for meeting Grade A quality levels, the processor is supporting the farmers in other ways, including providing the cooperatives with stock feed and other needed inputs, which farmers can purchase on credit and have deducted from their milk payments.  

Ellert and his partners are excited about the development impact of the program, but are understandably focusing their efforts on commercial sales. Considering the USDA-funded Food for Progress program is slated to culminate in 2016, the leadership of DanMoz is already ruminating about potentially hiring Land O'Lakes’ staff to continue their work with program farmers, which would help ensure that the dairy development efforts USDA has catalyzed can continue to grow and flourish.

Ensuring that milk collection centers and farmers alike keep accurate and transparent records has been a key focus for the program
Training in Transparency
With only 87 members currently delivering milk, as well as some inactive members, the leadership of Gondola Cooperative realizes work remains to attract additional members into the fold. Still, they’ve already made a number of transformative changes that are making a broader impact on how community members interact with and trust one another.

According to Jaime, Gondola’s president, “Much of the cooperative development training we’ve received from Land O'Lakes has focused on transparency. This means that if we want to make a decision, they must involve all producers in the decision-making through a participatory process. Thinking and acting in democratic ways is a new model for us all, but it is working. Our farmers appreciate that all members can vote and be elected, and that women’s voices are just as important as men’s. They’re also learning that along with rights, each cooperative member also has certain responsibilities and obligations to the broader group.”

But beyond the cooperative, the focus on transparency and accountability has built broader community cohesion, too. Curruissa summed up the sentiment by saying, “Everyone is united by the fact that we are all dairy farmers with cows, and we’re now working together as real neighbors, sharing ideas and resources, because we know working together will help each of us improve.”

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