Mzuzu — An idea that started on a very small scale by a group of 15 farmers almost 38 years ago has transformed into Lusangazi Dairy Farming Cooperative.
It is a vehicle carrying the dreams, fortunes and aspirations of many families from Chauluma Kaunda Village in Traditional Authority Kampingo Sibande in Mzuzu.
Lusangazi Dairy Farming Cooperative owes its roots to a small group of farmers who first came together to start a small milk trade. They bought and sold milk without the support of any sophisticated machinery and without receiving any training on how to run their trade.
"The establishment of our group owes its history as far back as 1980 when few farmers came together, got a grant from government and purchased cattle. In 1998, the group was registered as a cooperative," said Hesko Banda, chairperson for the group.
Over the years, the journey has not been smooth sailing. Poor market prices and a stagnant dairy industry has left many farmers hopeless and on the precipice of abandoning dairy farming.
But most farmers under Lusangazi, then operating as milking bulking group, have weathered the storms and soldiered on.
In 2013, their journey took one more sweet turn when they entered into a working partnership with the Community Savings and Investment Promotion (COMSIP).
This partnership meant a transformation from being a mere bulking group that assembled their milk together for sale into a cooperative that had to invest money from their milk sales into savings and other businesses.
Through the partnership with COMSIP, the group received a grant of K950 000 for capacity building through trainings on business management and financial literacy.
With a membership of 150 people, 119 women and 31 men, the group has made the most out of these trainings by improving their dairy business.
Lusangazi Dairy Farming Cooperative is involved in buying and bulk selling of milk on the outskirts of Mzuzu City. In a day, the cooperative buy slightly over 700 liters of milk, aggregate it and resell.
"With the view of diversifying our business operations and solidifying revenue base, we also do some other businesses. We buy fertilizer and repackage it in small packets of 5 kilograms and sell to communities at affordable prices to them.
"We also produce cattle feed for sale and our monthly production is currently at 50 bags weighing 50 kg each," Banda said.
Apart from that, the group also sells pesticides and undertake environmental conservation activities especially through tree planting and management exercise.
This year, the cooperative has planted 2,000 tree seedlings, according to Banda.
The group is also undertaking serious initiatives in broadening its revenue base. At the moment, it is in the process of constructing a hall which is expected to cost K10 million upon completion.
"By 2020, we want to have our own milk processing plant so that we should stop selling our milk to vendors. We want to exploit the marketing potential of our milk by doing some value addition to it," Banda added.
Currently the group has pooled together K15 million through savings and loans.
Cooperative members are benefitting in several ways at both group and individual level.
Evelyn Kamanga, a single mother of three, is one of the dairy farmers who has reaped substantial benefits of being a member of Lusangazi Dairy Farming Cooperative, a group she joined in 2013.
"As a single mother, it is normally tough to make ends meet. But for me, the story is different and I owe to my association with this cooperative. All my children have completed their secondary education and I have built a decent house," Kamanga said.
In 2014, Kamanga got a loan of K150,000 from the cooperative which she used to buy dairy cattle that is produces between 20 and 25 litres of milk a day.
She also gets dung from the cattle which she applies in her garden as manure to boost crop production.
Another dairy farmer who looks at Lusangazi Dairy Cooperative with gratitude is Mithu Mhone. The 57-year-old woman has been part of the cooperative since 2015. With the milk she sells through the cooperative and her savings through buying of shares, Mhone has managed to complete her modern house.
"I was failing to complete the house which I started building before I joined the cooperative. But now it has cemented floor and I have added a boys' quarters apartment," she says.
Mhone believes that her continued membership to the cooperative will help her achieve great things in life. And she still dreams big.
"I want to move with the cooperative's big dream of owning a plant of its own for processing milk into various products.
I want also to do some value addition by producing Chambiko and yoghurt from my milk so that I can increase my benefits," she said.