Poverty eradication in Kenya has always been a challenge. With 42% of the population living in extreme poverty, the size seems overwhelming to imagine.  But there is one place in the country that continues to inspire the rest of the nation, and it is also the home of one of Kenya’s active Fair Trade organizations.

Machakos Cooperative Union and Coffee

Let us take a look at Machakos Co-operative Union. It was established in 1964 as an umbrella organization of producers in Machakos County involved in production of coffee, soap stone carvings, wood carvings, sisal weaving and jewelry accessories.

The co-operative is a source of inspiration. Located 50 kilometers southeast of Nairobi, their most successful operation is coffee. On their website, the organization published that their coffee production saw significant increase. This increase is due largely to the co-op’s aggressive support to coffee farmers through trainings and subsidized prices of farm inputs. Although the district is challenged with erratic climate pattern, these types of support enabled them to grow more coffee seedlings. At present, they work with 34 groups of coffee farmers.

Machakos Cooperative Union and Handicrafts

Facing high rate of population growth and unemployment, the Machakos co-op expanded operation to include handicrafts. In addition to working with coffee farmers, they are also working with handicraft producers, especially women self-help groups. The handicrafts section grew when they began to export artisanal products, along with coffee, in 1987. Most of the members in this division come from municipalities where agricultural production is poor due to unfavorable climate and soil conditions.

The section was started in 1987 to market handcraft products both locally and internationally. Today the section works with over 20 women self-help groups and 6 handcraft co-operatives.

Utilizing local resources, the co-op encouraged handicrafts production as an alternative source of income for the communities. They also capitalized on traditional artisanal techniques to produce high-quality sisal and soap stone products. Today, the handicrafts section has grown and is currently working with mostly women groups, which comprise 4000 out of 6000 individual member artisans.

Machakos Cooperative Union Future Plans

Machakos Co-operative Union seeks to improve the quality of life of their members, employees and customers by supporting production, processing and marketing high quality products from their members. While taking care that their member got the necessary support to ensure good production outputs. They also have efficient marketing division that handles the trading of their products. Presently, the co-op exports their products to Europe and North America, as well as to in countries like Japan and Australia. Fighting poverty may not be easy, but Machakos Co-operative Union has shown us it is possible and with success. Despite the unfavorable environmental condition in the county, they efficiently managed to maximize local and natural resources. Coupled with training and subsidies given to their members, production outputs and increased, and thus sales.

It is notable that the organization has strong Fair Trade values and principles that guide their practices. Their vision is clear and simple, and yet it guided them effectively to help communities in their area for more than 50 years.


—   Anthea Vigni

World Fair Trade Organization