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Building a Business Together

How COMACO works with smallholder cooperatives so everyone profits

Story by FTF PI February 13th, 2018

In Zambia and across southern Africa, there is growing consumer demand for value-added products like peanut butter. These products are more profitable for companies than unprocessed products like peanuts, but to take advantage of this market opportunity, companies need to have a reliable source of quality raw products. To address this, companies in countries like Zambia are integrating the country’s numerous but largely marginalized smallholder farmers into formal supply chains. Companies that can do this not only stand to benefit from a vast supply of raw materials, but can also help raise incomes for farmers, who in turn benefit from access to a reliable market for high-value crops.


Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO), whose mission is to reduce poverty, promote conservation, and create sustainable markets in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, is expanding its production of nutritious, environmentally friendly products like peanut butter, soy-based breakfast cereal, and honey for its It’s Wild brand by integrating smallholder farmers into its supply chain.


COMACO has worked with farmer cooperatives for years, training them on conservation farming and other farm management techniques that make farming more sustainable. As COMACO entered the commercial sector and launched the It’s Wild brand, it started to rely on these cooperatives to supply raw materials for processing into value-added products like peanut butter.


This is one of the reasons COMACO invests heavily in training its cooperative members, and why COMACO works with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation to improve its training and provide new market opportunities for smallholder farmers. With investment from Partnering for Innovation, a USAID-funded program, COMACO has upgraded its training materials, providing books and MP3 recordings so that farmers have something to refer back to, re-read, or re-listen when needed, and learn at their own pace instead of being confined to a specific training day.


Trainings focus on conservation agriculture, which reduces the need for costly inputs and makes the soil more productive naturally. The products that COMACO sources, like peanuts and soy, also replenish the soil’s fertility, eliminating the need for costly nitrogen fertilizer.

COMACO’s cooperatives are a key element to making it a sustainable, profitable business. Not only do they supply the raw materials that COMACO needs, but trained cooperatives also act as quality control, ensuring that the raw products going into the peanut butter and other COMACO products are of commercial quality. Trained cooperatives can also manage the supply chain themselves, making COMACO’s operations more efficient and therefore more profitable.


By working with COMACO, farmers are turning their farms into profitable businesses through training and market opportunities. COMACO’s prices are also better than other organizations that source from smallholder farmers because it pays a premium for crops grown with conservation agriculture practices. With the cost of farming going down and the profits going up, more and more youth farmers are joining cooperatives and becoming lead farmers, representing the next generation of farming in Zambia.

Demand for products like peanut butter is growing domestically and regionally, and investing in COMACO has helped both COMACO and the smallholder farmers it sources from take advantage of this opportunity. As COMACO continues to increase its market share, export its products, and launch new products to market, a mutually beneficial relationship is developing between it and the farmers with whom it works, ensuring that COMACO can continue to grow and provide a market for farmers’ goods.

Footnote: Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program that helps the private sector scale and market agricultural innovations for smallholder farmers