Rising to the Challenge with Iringa Hope

Date posted: Thursday 26 July 2018

This week's update comes to us from Norm Siekman, a member of the Board of Directors of Iringa Hope. He is currently in Tanzania visiting with members and leaders of local SACCOS and AMCOS groups. You can read more about his visits on the 2018 Iringa Hope blog.


Just a year ago I didn't think I would be living in Iringa for two months this summer. As one of the newest members of the Board of Directors of Iringa Hope in Minnesota, my initial reaction when presented with the idea was, "Who, me?"


Iringa Hope started with a single Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (SACCOS) providing micro-finance loans with an average loan of $300 each, in the village of Ihemi in 2008. Since then it has grown to a network of 33 villages managing loans totaling over $610,000 to nearly 1,800 families, affecting the lives of nearly 20,000 people. Beginning this year, every village with a SACCOS has the opportunity to organize an Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Society (AMCOS), which will help the members of the co-op to order supplies and market their crops as a single organization.


So far I've made 16 visits and heard the stories of how small-hold farmers living in isolated villages manage their livelihood - ordering supplies such as seed and fertilizer from distributors who come through their village. I've heard the stories of how the supplies are more expensive when they are purchased in small quantities and how sometimes the seed varieties needed aren't available, how the fertilizers meant for a farmer's crops and soil type aren't necessarily available, and how people need to "make do" with whatever is on hand.


I've also heard the stories of farmers who sell to the first "middle man" who comes through the village at harvest time, and buys their crops at a lower price than what is available in Iringa. I've heard how the middle men only come through the village when the price is low; never when it is high.


The AMCOS co-op enables the members of all of the AMCOS organizations to obtain better prices by aggregating all their purchases, dealing directly with suppliers, and ordering a truck to deliver fertilizer and other products direct from the supplier's warehouse to the village. The total demand for fertilizer could be as high as 10,000 bags of fertilizer from a single supplier! Even more, the AMCOS co-op enables all the members of the AMCOS organization to accumulate their sales of crops such as maize, so they are not selling their maize to a middle man who comes to their village and purchases a few bags at a time. Rather, they can collect all the members' maize and deliver 10 tons at a time to a miller or other buyer.


All of this has resulted in the transferring of market power and economic benefits from distributors and middle men to the members of the AMCOS co-op. And all of this means better lives for the Iringa Hope AMCOS members, their families, and their communities.


When Tom Hendrickson approached me about going to Iringa for two months this summer, I didn't realize that I would be meeting with buyers and suppliers, meeting with Iringa Hope members, and hearing about how the AMCOS co-op would be changing their lives. I didn't realize that I would be a part of that change. When I said 'Yes,' I didn't realize that after two months in Iringa I wouldn't be quite ready to leave.




Norm Siekman

Iringa Hope