HOME > ALCP News
Farmer Groups: Why We Love Them, Why We Do Them and Why They Fail

From the ISET Economist news (http://www.iset.ge/news/?p=3056)
By Tim Stewart

As Georgia embarks on an ambitious program to develop farmer organizations, it is worth considering both the positive and negative lessons from the experience of similar initiatives, both in Georgia and elsewhere in the developing/transition context. The piece by Tim Stewart, originally published on www.springfieldcentre.com, identifies some of the main reasons for the failure of start-up farmer organizations. The challenge for Georgia is to learn from these mistakes in planning and implementation, and ensure improved coordination among the many cooks involved (the newly created Agency for the Development of Agricultural Cooperatives, the Ministry of Agriculture, international donors, NGOs, and farmer associations).  

A village in the Zestafoni area. It is a picturesque landscape, but the farms are not operating very efficiently. (Photo: Nikoloz Pkhakadze)

Someone once told me that I couldn’t be a real agriculturalist until I had at least one failed chicken project under my belt, illustrating both their ubiquity and propensity to flop. The same can be said of projects that seek to establish farmer groups (farmer organisations, cooperatives etc.) and for much the same reasons – although I believe we should learn from failure, not repeat patterns that lead to it.

Conventional programmes working in agricultural markets often include a component of forming and supporting farmer groups in their various guises. Their justification for this is the perceived benefits to small farmers that can accrue from economies of scale of production (assets, labour and inputs), marketing (reduced transaction costs and bigger volumes) and voice (representation to government etc.). My concern is that farmer group formation and support is frequently a waste of effort and money because they overwhelmingly fail, and there is little honest recognition of, let alone learning from, that awkward reality.

Literature drawn mainly from projects supports farmer group formation and strengthening as a panacea for agricultural advancement, and often backs up the case for intense external resourcing. It suggests that farmers in groups are more likely to adopt technologies than those who aren’t, or are more likely to grow project-supported crops. Proponents also highlight their significance to the supply of inputs into food production and of food to the market. Indeed, the FAO estimates that nearly 40% of Brazil’s agricultural GDP is produced through cooperatives while in Europe, 60% of agricultural produce and 50% of inputs are marketed through one.

However a glance at the 2012 “Exploring the Cooperative Economy” report from the World Cooperative Monitor, reveals an almost total cooperative vacuum in Africa and, to a lesser degree, Asia. More directly, in my work I am frequently confronted with the reality of failed farmer groups that evaporate once the project ends, with unused equipment rusting in the corner of a field, an image, which has become a cliché of dysfunctional development in the popular press. And for many people engaged in development, farmer groups are a byword for failure.

Yet as far as I can establish (and I have searched), there have been few honest and objective ex-post reviews of farmer group formation components of projects to look at failure and the reasons for failure. (If I’m wrong and there are real data on groups’ success and sustainability, please send it to me!) Failures, if reported, are attributed to external “unforeseen challenges” and written up as “lessons learned”. Farmers groups have become a prime example of the development industry’s “emperor’s new clothes syndrome”, where official views are positive and glowing and formal research and evidence are at odds with what we know to be common (naked!) reality. So, in that context, I would argue that farmer group formation is a poor way to improve the lot of farmers positively and sustainably. How much more money needs to be spent; how many more pet Farmer Field School projects do we need to implement; how many more constitutions do we need to write; how many MOUs do we need to sign or how many ‘Farming as a Business’ trainings do we need to subject farmers to, before we understand that this form of development is not working?

The factors leading to the failure of farmer groups (rapid decline post-project) are numerous, but broadly they fail because they were formed for the wrong reasons, by the wrong people and/or in the wrong way.

THE WRONG REASONS TO FORM FARMER GROUPS

Agencies often form farmer groups because it helps them – the agency – achieve economies of scale of delivering services, assets or grants to them. In addition some may feel more comfortable ethically with the transfer of expensive assets or technical assistance to a group rather than an individual. The ethos of communal ownership to cosiness of the collective is pervasive in certain quarters of the development industry, even in the face of the common observation of poorly managed group-owned assets. Farmer group membership is also too often a pre-condition for farmers to receive giveaways from agencies. Groups therefore become entities built on artificial incentives created by agencies wanting an easy repository for their resources and buying short-term transitory impact.

Clearly then, ill-conceived or self-serving reasons are the wrong ones for forming farmer groups.

THE WRONG PEOPLE TO FORM FARMER GROUPS

Agribusinesses often face problems interfacing with small farmers because of high transaction costs, small transaction sizes, poor organisation and communications and a general lack of understanding of them. Farmers are often observed to face challenges finding markets for their products or face poor terms of trade. The absence of institutions (like groups) and services which would help them overcome these challenges (supporting group formation) is often justification enough for agencies to intervene impulsively by stepping in on behalf of small farmers – telling and selling the narrative of the “farmer being exploited by the middleman”.

The problem here is not only do agencies avoid addressing the root causes of the problem that lies beyond the farmer-trader interface, but in stepping into this space by performing “farmer group services” they undermine the possibility that it will ever be solved. Rather than solutions cemented firmly and sustainably in the market system, emerging “farmer group services” are seen as a development agency space. Thus it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: farmers are disadvantaged in markets because of weak vertical and horizontal linkages and there are no services to address this market failure: justification enough for agencies to step in and undermine the market further…

Development agencies are also the wrong people to offer farmer group services because, typically, they are poor at business:

-  They are not market based, they are subsidised and non-commercial and their success/failure isn’t dependent on a viable offer but on continued support from their donor.

-  Their incentives are therefore aligned to the agendas of the donor and their own HQ, not the market.

-  They are not cost-effective, indeed they are prohibitively expensive if the true cost of delivery is taken into account (drivers, cooks, HQ fund-raising etc.).

Development agencies are therefore the wrong people to form farmer groups because they are not long-term players in the market, undermine legitimate market players if they attempt to do so, and, put simply, are usually bad at business.

THE WRONG WAY TO FORM FARMER GROUPS

Agencies form farmer groups on the basis of an abstract, theoretical notion of potential benefits, or experience in distant contexts of limited relevance. Seldom do they ask the more grounded starting question: if groups are such an obviously “good thing”, why aren’t farmers forming groups already? Understanding the answer to this question would lead to understanding and addressing systemic problems in the market, or simply not wasting resources by attempting to do something that would be unsuccessful. The reasons that farmers don’t form groups are many, but often related to a lack of incentives or capacity.

Incentives: It may be that additional income does not accrue by aggregation, or that which is created may not be sufficient to overcome other issues such as distrust of others in financial matters. Other actors may be able to provide incentives that induce group formation such as a commodity buyer that provides inputs on credit. There may also be disincentives related to the wider political economy such as additional tax or administrative burdens to formal groups.

Capacity: There may be other obstacles to forming groups such as inefficient business registration procedures, weak advisory services, or a lack of adequately available information that would allow farmers to make an informed decision to form a group. This shouldn’t be seen as an open justification for agency intervention to address these directly for example through business services and setting up one-stop-shops for business registration etc. Rather it should lead to enquiry into who could and should be delivering these and why they are not.

The wrong way to form farmer groups is therefore to do it without understanding the central market failures that prevent farmers from forming them.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

The problem for an agriculturalist and development practitioner like myself, is that working with farmers is fun and endlessly fascinating: it’s one of the things I got into the business for! However instead of being drawn to act impulsively on behalf of the small farmer, I think agencies would serve them better by doing more of the following three things.

Firstly, go in with their eyes and minds open, conducting ex-ante market analysis rather than making unsubstantiated assumptions about what farmers need. Don’t arrive with a farmer group solution pre-prepared and engineer an analysis to justify this. Establish the reasons that farmers are not cohesive, what incentives are shaping their behaviour and what capacities may be lacking. Get a valid answer to the key question: why isn’t the market system working?

Secondly, build and don’t undermine. Guided by the above analysis, work with relevant, long-term market players (private and public) to address the issues underlying farmers’ poor performance and low incomes.

Thirdly, be honest about and learn from failure. This is not especially difficult or time consuming to do, but I suspect is a place where many fear to tread.

My argument is not that farmer groups cannot be beneficial to farmers. Rather, by adopting a systemic approach aimed at fostering the conditions for self-organisation among market players, agencies have a far better chance of supporting small farmers – which may or may not involve farmer groups.

OTHER NEWS
04/05/2022
Georgian Milk Mark Dairies on Show

The Cheese and Tea Exhibition showcasing Georgian traditional, as well as foreign produce was held at Mtatsminda Park on May 1st, 2022. Ten dairies with the Georgian Milk Mark (GMM) - Milkeni, Tsintskaro +, Meskhuri Gemo, Bebo’s Kveli, Suamta, Leanka, Alpuri Javakheti, Dertseli’s Nobati, Naturaluri Rdzis Gemo, Tsezari presented their products at the event organized by Anna Mikadze-Chikvaidze, the Head of the Cheese Producers Guild. Visitors tasted cheese and got to know about the GMM. Butter with spices, a new product by Milkeni, was their favourite.

‘The GMM contributed a lot to make this event happen. I am thankful to them for giving me an opportunity to discover amazing products, like butter with spices. I am glad that the GMM promotes raw milk production’ - Event founder Anna Mikadze-Chikvaidze praised the development of the GMM in her Facebook posts.

Created in 2019, the GMM has twenty dairies currently using the mark. The GMM products are available in Madagoni, Spar, Tserti, Magniti, Smart, Ori Nabiji, Nikora, Zgapari, Fresco, Carrefour, Goodwill, Daily, Billion and Willmart supermarket chains.

A comprehensive online portal www.georgianmilk.ge provides a profile per enterprise allowing consumers to look up the products they are buying using a unique registration number printed on the label.

        

15/04/2022
Cooperation Solidifies Between Georgian and Armenian Women’s Rooms

For three days from 11-14 April, the Women’s Rooms Union of Georgia NGO hosted an Armenian delegation of the Mayors of Alaverdi, Tumanyan and Tashir municipalities of Armenia, their three Women’s Rooms managers, representatives of Lori Region Governor’s office and the Association of Lawyers Community NGO.  These three municipalities in Armenia have now all instituted Women’s Rooms and were in Georgia to learn more about their operation and potential and to strengthen links in the region.

They met the mayors and deputy mayors of Akhmeta and Telavi municipalities, and a representative of Kakheti Governor’s office and visited the rooms. The Women’s Room managers of both municipalities did presentations on their work.

‘It was a very interesting and useful visit. We have just established the Women’s Room service in our municipality and, as we’ve copied the Georgian model, it was necessary for us to see how this it works here,’ – Suren Tumanyan, the mayor of Tumanyan municipality said.

‘After this visit we clearly see how to use our Women’s Rooms and make sure that our women and girls are involved in local decision making through the Women’s Room as it was done in Georgia,’ – Edgar Arshakyan, the mayor of Tashir municipality said.

One of the main goals of the municipal Women’s Rooms in Georgia is to support women’s entrepreneurship by helping them write business proposals, connect with other women entrepreneurs and access the trainings and information. Participants visited social enterprise Skhivi, where women are making traditional enamel jewelry and accessories, the shop of entrepreneur Tamar Mikeladze, who is making handmade soaps and candles under the brand name Kumpa, and a local female beekeeper.

‘We are impressed with the results of Georgian Women’s Rooms regarding women’s economic empowerment. The managers here had business plan writing and fundraising trainings to help local women to start their own businesses. We are looking forward to doing the same in Armenia,’ – Sasun Khechumyan, the mayor of Alaverdi said.

‘In Lori region there are five municipalities in total, out of which three municipalities have already opened the Women’s Rooms. We are ready to support the opening of this service in the other two municipalities as well,’ – Alik Sahakyan, the representative of Lori Governor’s office said.

This study tour has laid the foundation for future cooperation between Georgian and Armenian municipalities. Alaverdi and Akhmeta municipalities have decided to become twin towns and the Women’s Rooms Union is going to continue cooperation with these Armenia municipalities.

Background information: From 2011 to date the SDC and ADA funded Mercy Corps implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme has been facilitating the establishment and scaling up the municipal Women’s Rooms in Georgia and Armenia. 32 Women’s Rooms in Georgia and three Women’s Rooms in Armenia have been opened so far. The Women’s Rooms are owned by local governments and are used to facilitate access to public decision making, goods and economic opportunities. The Women’s Rooms Union was formed in 2021 to represent the rooms and facilitate their interests.

The information about the visit was posted on a Facebook pages of Telavi and Akhmeta City Halls.

Local TV Tanamgzavri made two news items about the visit. Please, follow the links below:

Meeting at Telavi City Hall  *  Visiting Local Women Entrepreneurs

Follow the link to watch The Women’s Rooms Promo Video

12/04/2022
New Jara Textbook Introduced for VET

Georgian Traditional Beekeeping: Jara Honey Production is a new textbook now available for VET colleges who include a Jara component in their beekeeping courses. It is part of making the Jara beekeeping course material an accredited component in its own right from September this year.

The author Aleko Papava, who is a competent, reliable and respected beekeeper teacher and Head of the Georgian Beekeepers Union, wrote the book together with education specialists on behalf of the Georgian Beekeepers Union and Jara Beekeepers Association.

The Scientific Research Centre of Agriculture of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture reviewed and acknowledged the book positively.  

‘The book is written in a highly professional manner, materials meet the demand of the beekeeping sector in terms of bio honey production and provide comprehensive information about all the topics for studying Jara Honey Production’ – says the Centre in their letter sent to the GBU.

In June 2021, thirteen VET college representatives from seven regions of Georgia attended a Training of Trainers in Jara Honey Production and later received jara equipment. Now eight of them are integrating aspects of Jara beekeeping into different subjects of the beekeeping programmes to 106 students. Five more colleges will start soon. This textbook means that Jara Beekeeping will be taught as a separate accredited component of these courses. The newly established Vocational Skills Agency, National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement and sectoral skills organization Agro Duo are all supporting Jara teaching integration in the VET colleges.

Linked resources: Jara Honey Production Handbook; Bio Certification Guidelines for Beekeepers; www.honeyofgeorgia.com; Discover Georgia: The Land of the Oldest Honey.

03/02/2022
The ‘Secrets’ of Georgian Honey Revealed in the New Article

The Many Secrets of Georgian Honey, an article dedicated to the exceptional Georgian honey making, was published in the online journal Plantings by the World Sensorium Conservancy. The journal covers topics relevant to conservation and the intrinsic values of nature. The article was penned by Braden Bjella, an American culture journalist based in Eastern Europe, who takes readers to Georgian beekeeping journey with the help of the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) and the Jara Beekeepers Association (JBA). As he says, “the question of Georgian honey quality is settled; now, it’s only up to the world to discover it". 

         

20/12/2021
The Georgian Beekeepers Union Celebrates Three Years Anniversary


On December 20th, the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) hosted an event to celebrate its third anniversary inviting key honey sector stakeholders to Hualing Tbilisi Sea Plaza. 


Since 2018, the honey sector has seen huge gains under the auspices of the GBU, which is leading efforts to remove pervasive constraints to growth such as the widespread use of prohibited antibiotics and performing the role of non-governmental national representative of the honey sector. The GBU’s three years of extensive work resulted in increased honey quality, more effective governmental advocacy, better vocational education in beekeeping, including, Jara teaching, available information and trainings for beekeepers, promotion and improved image of Georgian honey at the Apimondia Congress and London Honey Awards, all that paving way for an increase of honey export

 

‘There are some major developments in improving honey testing capacity, increasing awareness of Georgian honey, and opening of new export markets. The comprehensive laboratory analysis, before carried abroad, is now available in Georgia, which resulted in decreasing transaction costs.’ – Giorgi Khanishvili, the First Deputy Minister of the Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia (MEPA). 

 

‘We were able to achieve significant improvements during these three years. We are continuing cooperation with the government and other honey stakeholders to ensure production of safe and quality honey.’ – Aleko Papava, the Executive Director of the GBU. 

Photo source: The MEPA

19/12/2021
Jara Enters the Qatar Market

Nena Jara honey, along with other types of Georgian honey, found its place on the Georgian honey corner opened at the SPAR supermarket branch in Tawar Mall, the largest shopping mall in Doha, Qatar. Georgian honey corner will be opened in every branch of the SPAR chain. The process is backed by the Embassy of Georgia to the State of Qatar. The ALCP facilitated the export of Jara honey.

Local influential media AI Raya dedicated a comprehensive article to Georgian honey with a special highlight on Georgian beekeeping characteristics and traditional Jara.  

The Qatar market seems promising. The Embassy’s previous facilitation for approval of a VET certificate, an essential requirement for honey export, has contributed to a 255% increase of Georgian honey export to Qatar in 2021 compared to 2020. The same figure saw a 350% boost in 2020. 

Photo source: The Embassy of Georgia to the State of Qatar

LATEST NEWS
Georgian Milk Mark Dairies on Show
04/05/2022
The Cheese and Tea Exhibition showcasing Georgian traditional, as well as foreign produce was held at Mtatsminda Park on May 1st, 2022. Ten dairies with the Georgian Milk Mark (GMM) - Milkeni, Tsintskaro +, Meskhuri Gemo, Bebo’s Kveli, Suamta, Leanka, Alpuri Javakheti, Dertseli’s Nobati, Naturaluri Rdzis Gemo, Tsezari presented their products at the event organized by Anna Mikadze-Chikvaidze, the Head of the Cheese Producers Guild. Visitors tasted cheese and got to know about the GMM. Butter with spices, a new product by Milkeni, was their favourite. ‘The GMM contributed a lot to make this event happen. I am thankful to them for giving me an opportunity to discover amazing products, like butter with spices. I am glad that the GMM promotes raw milk production’ - Event founder Anna Mikadze-Chikvaidze praised the development of the GMM in her Facebook posts. Created in 2019, the GMM has twenty dairies currently using the mark. The GMM products are available in Madagoni, Spar, Tserti, Magniti, Smart, Ori Nabiji, Nikora, Zgapari, Fresco, Carrefour, Goodwill, Daily, Billion and Willmart supermarket chains. A comprehensive online portal www.georgianmilk.ge provides a profile per enterprise allowing consumers to look up the products they are buying using a unique registration number printed on the label.         
Cooperation Solidifies Between Georgian and Armenian Women’s Rooms
15/04/2022
For three days from 11-14 April, the Women’s Rooms Union of Georgia NGO hosted an Armenian delegation of the Mayors of Alaverdi, Tumanyan and Tashir municipalities of Armenia, their three Women’s Rooms managers, representatives of Lori Region Governor’s office and the Association of Lawyers Community NGO.  These three municipalities in Armenia have now all instituted Women’s Rooms and were in Georgia to learn more about their operation and potential and to strengthen links in the region. They met the mayors and deputy mayors of Akhmeta and Telavi municipalities, and a representative of Kakheti Governor’s office and visited the rooms. The Women’s Room managers of both municipalities did presentations on their work. ‘It was a very interesting and useful visit. We have just established the Women’s Room service in our municipality and, as we’ve copied the Georgian model, it was necessary for us to see how this it works here,’ – Suren Tumanyan, the mayor of Tumanyan municipality said. ‘After this visit we clearly see how to use our Women’s Rooms and make sure that our women and girls are involved in local decision making through the Women’s Room as it was done in Georgia,’ – Edgar Arshakyan, the mayor of Tashir municipality said. One of the main goals of the municipal Women’s Rooms in Georgia is to support women’s entrepreneurship by helping them write business proposals, connect with other women entrepreneurs and access the trainings and information. Participants visited social enterprise Skhivi, where women are making traditional enamel jewelry and accessories, the shop of entrepreneur Tamar Mikeladze, who is making handmade soaps and candles under the brand name Kumpa, and a local female beekeeper. ‘We are impressed with the results of Georgian Women’s Rooms regarding women’s economic empowerment. The managers here had business plan writing and fundraising trainings to help local women to start their own businesses. We are looking forward to doing the same in Armenia,’ – Sasun Khechumyan, the mayor of Alaverdi said. ‘In Lori region there are five municipalities in total, out of which three municipalities have already opened the Women’s Rooms. We are ready to support the opening of this service in the other two municipalities as well,’ – Alik Sahakyan, the representative of Lori Governor’s office said. This study tour has laid the foundation for future cooperation between Georgian and Armenian municipalities. Alaverdi and Akhmeta municipalities have decided to become twin towns and the Women’s Rooms Union is going to continue cooperation with these Armenia municipalities. Background information: From 2011 to date the SDC and ADA funded Mercy Corps implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme has been facilitating the establishment and scaling up the municipal Women’s Rooms in Georgia and Armenia. 32 Women’s Rooms in Georgia and three Women’s Rooms in Armenia have been opened so far. The Women’s Rooms are owned by local governments and are used to facilitate access to public decision making, goods and economic opportunities. The Women’s Rooms Union was formed in 2021 to represent the rooms and facilitate their interests. The information about the visit was posted on a Facebook pages of Telavi and Akhmeta City Halls. Local TV Tanamgzavri made two news items about the visit. Please, follow the links below: Meeting at Telavi City Hall  *  Visiting Local Women Entrepreneurs Follow the link to watch The Women’s Rooms Promo Video
New Jara Textbook Introduced for VET
12/04/2022
Georgian Traditional Beekeeping: Jara Honey Production is a new textbook now available for VET colleges who include a Jara component in their beekeeping courses. It is part of making the Jara beekeeping course material an accredited component in its own right from September this year. The author Aleko Papava, who is a competent, reliable and respected beekeeper teacher and Head of the Georgian Beekeepers Union, wrote the book together with education specialists on behalf of the Georgian Beekeepers Union and Jara Beekeepers Association. The Scientific Research Centre of Agriculture of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture reviewed and acknowledged the book positively.   ‘The book is written in a highly professional manner, materials meet the demand of the beekeeping sector in terms of bio honey production and provide comprehensive information about all the topics for studying Jara Honey Production’ – says the Centre in their letter sent to the GBU. In June 2021, thirteen VET college representatives from seven regions of Georgia attended a Training of Trainers in Jara Honey Production and later received jara equipment. Now eight of them are integrating aspects of Jara beekeeping into different subjects of the beekeeping programmes to 106 students. Five more colleges will start soon. This textbook means that Jara Beekeeping will be taught as a separate accredited component of these courses. The newly established Vocational Skills Agency, National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement and sectoral skills organization Agro Duo are all supporting Jara teaching integration in the VET colleges. Linked resources: Jara Honey Production Handbook; Bio Certification Guidelines for Beekeepers; www.honeyofgeorgia.com; Discover Georgia: The Land of the Oldest Honey.
LATEST PUBLICATIONS
Sheep Dipping Guidelines
Georgian Traditional Beekeeping: Jara Honey Production GEO
The book will allow all VET colleges with beekeeping programmes to teach Jara as a subject from September 2022.
Bi Annual Report April 2021 to September 2021