A PhD research collaboration is currently underway between the Co-operative College UK and the University of Leeds, looking at different co-operative governance processes and how they help to reduce poverty. PhD candidate Rowshan Hannan, who has been undertaking research in Kenya, discusses how she has gone about her research and some of her findings so far, which suggest an important link between co-operative governance and the extent of the impact co-operatives can have on people’s lives:
This research began in 2011, and is due to be completed in 2014. It is undertaking a case study of two primary dairy farmer co-operative societies in Kenya, one with one with a stable and well-functioning governance system (Co-operative A), and one which had faced a number of governance challenges (Co-operative B). In Co-operative B a recent vote of no confidence had been passed on the board of directors, leading to its dissolution and the election of an interim board in its place. The research focused on two villages to understand the impact of each co-operative – Village A and Village B, where Co-operatives A and B respectively had a large number of members. A five-year study period was chosen, from 2007 to 2012, which coincided with the governance challenges experienced by Co-operative B.
Primary data collection was undertaken in Kenya between July and October 2012. Research methods included in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and a number of different participatory exercises including matrix scoring. At the household level, the research focused on seven member households (two active and two inactive) and seven non-member households in each village. This article will present some preliminary findings on the differences identified in each village, and then explore the links between these differences and the governance of the respective co-operatives.
Changes identified in Village A and B
Changes in Village A
In Village A, eight out of the twelve participant households in Village A that owned dairy cows in 2007 confirmed that the size of their herd had been increasing over the five year study period from 2007 to 2012. A non-member, who bought his first dairy cow in 2006, described his growing herd: “They’ve been giving birth – got all these cows from this first one … “. Through a breeding process, Participant A33 increased his herd of one dairy cow in 2006 to four in 2012. In Village A, all five active members also confirmed an increase in milk yields per cow. Members talked about how “[T]this cow now is producing more milk than the one I had in 2007”. Another member explains why:
“We are feeding them [the cows] with the right kind of feeds. We have more knowledge now on how to take care of our cattle than we did in 2007. In 2007 we were using local bulls. Now using AI [artificial insemination].” (Participant A15)
Participant A15 describes changes to feeding and rearing practices as well as to breeding practices, and links these changes to improved knowledge. Four out of the five active members in Village A also confirmed increasing income from dairy farming over the five year period from 2007 to 2012.
Changes in Village B
In Village B, only three out of the 10 member and non-member households that owned dairy cows in 2007 confirmed an increasing herd. Unlike in Village A, not all active members in Village B confirmed that milk production per cow had been increasing over the five year period. An increase was confirmed by three out of the five active members, and with only two out of the five reporting an increase in income from milk. One member stated:
“I was better off earlier when doing dairy farming – income was high. Now have only small income from one cow – so income has decreased.” (Participant B4)
Unlike in Village A ,the majority of active members in Village B did not associate any increases to their household income with dairy farming. The household matrix scoring exercise on milk yields showed that although active members in Village B had increased milk production per cow overall from 2007 to 2012, this was at a much lower rate than active members in Village A – a 29% increase in milk production per cow occurred in Village B, compared to an 82% increase in Village A.
Links between the findings and co-operative governance
Over the 2007 to 2012 study period, co-operative members in Village A were found to have increased their dairy cow herd at a faster pace than members in Village B. They were also able to increase milk production and their income from milk at a greater rate. A number of different areas were linked to these improvements including access to training, access to farm inputs and access to credit from the co-operative. This section will focus on one area – training, and explore its links to co-operative governance. In response to a question on who organised the training, a Participant responded:
“The Society [Co-operative A]. They organise most of them. They invite us, bring the teacher and educate us.” (Participant A14)
Co-operative A was repeatedly linked to the training that took place in Village A, by both members and non-members. Rather than delivering the training itself, Co-operative A was found to act as a conduit through which others could access its membership area. Its board directors and staff had established good working relations with both the membership and with external actors in the local area. This was reflected in the way the staff gathered data from the membership through surveys, and then analysed this data and used it to improve the delivery of training to the area. It was also reflected in the way the representative board director for Village A interacted with his members through regular meetings and in the way he disseminated information at the village level. These processes, which were linked closely to the way governance structures were set up and used in Co-operative A, meant that they were able to successfully identify training needs in Village A, attract appropriate training providers (such as different government ministries, private farm input suppliers and NGOs), and successfully mobilise farmers to receive the training.
In Co-operative B, over the five year study period there had been regular resignations of directors representing Village B – three different directors had been in place over the five year study period (directors are usually elected for a three year term), compared to one in the area for Village A. The current representative for Village B was involved in long protracted meetings at the co-operative to identify a way forward for the society and was not able to commit to any regular interactions with the membership. In Village B previous directors talked about how they had been active in organising educational visits and farmer-to-farmer training. However, they explained that during recent terms held at the co-operative they had not been able to focus on the wider needs of their members due to the ongoing governance issues in their co-operative. In Village B the co-operative had also been unable to successfully mobilise farmers for training in some areas. For example, they had not been able to gather sufficient interest from within the membership to mobilise a women’s savings and loans group. In Village A, a similar group was found to have been running for over a year, and was being used by an NGO to access women for training in a number of different areas. Co-operative B had also not been able to develop as many external links to actors in the local area. This meant that it had no working relations with an important training provider in the locale – the Ministry of Agriculture, and had been unable to facilitate agricultural training into Village B.
The preliminary findings suggest an important link between co-operative governance and the extent of impact that the co-operative can have on people’s lives. Co-operative governance processes and structures that are able to maintain a more responsive link to the membership, and establish good working relations with key external actors, are better able to mobilise members and attract other actors into the area to deliver wider services that can help improve people’s living conditions.