Transforming Malawi rural communities through cooperatives

Ruth Mulomba from Chimwayi Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kuntumanji in Zomba district used to cycle for more than 40 kilometers per day just to access a unit of buns at the closest trading center.

A member of Sakata bakery chatting with Journalist Tikondane Vega
Sakata COMSIP Cooperative Bakery
Members of Sakata COMSIP Cooperative Bakery making buns

“Buns are on high demand here and I could make fast money. That is why I travelled that long and everyday to the city to get this commodity,” she says

But with the coming of Community Savings and Investment Promotion (COMSIP), all that changed and for the better.

Following the establishment of Sakata COMSIP Cooperative Bakery in the village, Mulomba no longer cycles to the city.

Supported by COMSIP Cooperative Union with funding from Local Development Fund (LDF), Sakata COMSIP Cooperative Bakery started its operations on 22 August in 2015 following the formation of Sakata COMSIP Cooperative in January, 2002.

According to Mulomba, the opening of the bakery is a huge boost to her business as she is saving both time and energy.

“It is business made simple now. Cycling to the city is history and this is a breakthrough in my business,” she says.

In the past, Mulomba had to close her retail shop and hop on bike to town when stock ran out. But now, her shop is always open because she orders the buns within walking distance.

Dorothy Chindamba is the secretary of Sakata COMSIP Cooperative. She agrees that the opening of Sakata Bakery is a milestone in as far as business of selling buns in the area is concerned.

She says the bakery is currently serving over 50 villages within their catchment area and the bakery business is rewarding.

“Sakata COMSIP Cooperative has 34 members and all of us are doing fine. Some members now own decent houses while others have cows and goats.

Above all, members are able to pay school fees for their children in secondary schools and colleges. Others even have sewing machines, bicycles and some of us are buying solar panels for our houses,” Chindamba says.

Sakata Bakery produces 168 units of buns per day sold at K500.00 per unit with each bun fetching a retail price of K65, according to Chindamba.

She says the bakery makes an average of K80, 000 per day, which is good news for their cooperative adding that people have stopped going to Zomba City to buy buns.

The flourishing of the bakery business is also spawning long term plans of giving back to the communities that form the bulk of their customers.

“We are planning is to construct a school so that children around here should not cover long distances seeking education,” Chindamba says.

Currently, the nearest school to the surrounding communities that the bakery serves is Msondole, which is over 5 kilometers away.

Chindamba is hopeful that plans for the school will materialize.

“The way our business is fairing, it is very much possible to do that in five to six years from now. We are receiving huge support from customers, some from as far as Lake Chilwa shores,” she says

The cooperative is also into charity work in which 25 percent of its proceeds go towards helping the needy.

But everything is not rosy for Sakata COMSIP Cooperative.

The absence of electricity and lack of transportation to carry their products to other places is slowing business.

“We do not have power. We applied for connection at Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) but we are yet to be connected. Currently, we are using firewood and it slows business,” Chindamba says.

She adds that transportation problems confine their product to a limited reach.

“We want distribution to reach many places, even outside Zomba. That cannot work now since we do not have a car,” says Chindamba adding that plans are under way to purchase one.

Despite these challenges, the cooperative is still managing to bail out community members from poverty.

Community Development Assistant (CDA) for Zomba District Mphatso Kanyenyeu is impressed with the impact Sakata Cooperative is having on surrounding communities.

“Their performance is brilliant and we need more of these groups in Zomba for economic empowerment of our communities,” Kanyenyeu says.

“Numerous problems that rural women and girls face today can be tackled if they are provided with small grants and equipped with basic business skills as evidenced by Sakata Cooperative Bakery.”

According to Kanyenyeu, the business capital for the group came from public works programme (PWP), which is a short-term, labour-intensive employment opportunity for poor households in community projects.

Currently, Sakata COMSIP has boosted its savings to over K2.8 million. Moreover, members have also established their own businesses.

COMSIP’s Information, Education and Communication (IEC) Officer Emmanuel Muwamba believes communities have a crucial role to play in complementing government’s efforts in rural development.

“Cooperatives in rural areas have the potential to effectively contribute to the social economic development of the country. They promote a culture of savings and investment among the poor and ease access to financial services,” Muwamba says.

COMSIP Union is registered under the Cooperative Societies Act No 36 of 1998 and it was registered in January 2006 and came into active operation in January 2007.

Currently, the Union has over 400 Cooperatives and over 4000 groups across Malawi. It serves a population of over 150,000 members organised in groups, clusters and cooperatives in all the 28 districts of Malawi

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