Achieving Sustainable Livelihoods: The Integrated Co-operative Model in East Africa

Aasa Marshall

The Integrated Co-op Model (ICM), developed with the support of the Canadian Co-operative Association, brings together production, marketing support, and financial services for agricultural producers. This three-pronged approach to sustainable development is aimed at improving the livelihoods of rural farmers through access to these services.

A recent exploratory study assessing the value of the ICM in rural Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda revealed a number of wide-ranging findings about its effects on local farmers and communities. Researchers Dr. Lou Hammond Ketilson, Dr. JoAnn Jaffe, and Dr. Cindy Hanson presented the findings at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives as part of the Centre’s Seminar Series.

The integrated model involves Rural Producer Organisations (RPO) — composed of around 150 farmers — joining together to form Area Co-operative Enterprises (ACE), which are in turn supported by Savings and Credit Co-operative Organisations (SACCOs). The resulting associations are expected to contribute to increased productivity, food security, and income through this mix of production, marketing, and financial associations, as well as access to training and improved leadership skills.

The Integrated Co-operative Model


The study’s findings are exploratory and vary across regions; overall, they indicate the model has the potential to improve the lives of members. The presentation also emphasized the ways in which the model was shown to affect male and female participants differently.

In general, ICM members tend to have more money and land, and better houses, though the data indicates that these improvements may come at the expense of food security. An additional finding is that female ICM members remain uniformly less wealthy than males.

In Uganda, however, ICM has meant increased financial inclusion, literacy, and access to credit for female farmers. The study also found that while men borrow more for production, women use loans for consumption goods or to make up for subsistence shortfalls. The ICM does seem to positively impact women by “releasing them from the social obligations of borrowing.”

ICM-member households were shown to operate more diversified operations than nonmembers, regardless of gender. This finding indicates that women are managing to farm as many enterprises as men despite having, on average, a quarter of the wealth. ICM was also shown to give women increased access to training and markets that they may not have otherwise.

The study found that the model did not increase the food security of female-headed households, indicating that resources of this demographic were allocated elsewhere. Ultimately, although female ICM members do not have as much wealth as men or realize all of the same benefits, the increased diversification and access to land and labour show that the model can improve the lives of women.

The three-year, International Development Research Centre-funded project used in-depth interviews, focus groups, and household surveys to gauge ICM’s effect on member farmers. The study was done in partnership with the Canadian Co-operative Association, the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives (Canada), Moshi Co-operative University (Tanzania), the Department of Agribusiness and Natural Resource Economics at Makerere University (Uganda), and the University of Lay Adventists of Kigali (Rwanda).

You can find links to this report here under the title Examining Success Factors for Sustainable Rural Development through the Integrated Co-operative Model.

Aasa Marshall worked as a graduate student researcher at the Centre during 2016–17. She finished her master’s degree in public policy this fall and is now employed by Co-operatives First.


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