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Belaynesh takes a rest while carrying a crop of maize for sale to the weekly market at Assosa town. ..Belaynesh Hussen, age 50, lives with her niece Tsehaynesh Bistegn, age 10, in a thatched house in Amba Zetegn, 20km from Assosa town. She farms sorghum, maize, teff and soya, all sold through the local farmers co-operative society of which she has been a part for the past three years. This village co-op is affiliated to the Assosa Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Union…Growing oil seeds presents challenges for the famers of Assosa in western Ethiopia. Many of the most vulnerable are forced to sell to when they cannot be guaranteed a good price for their product. Farms are often located in isolated areas which entails huge amounts of time and effort simply getting seeds to market. Many farmers do not have the resources to properly invest in their land and are tied into exploitative loan arrangements with brokers that deny them the chance to take proper control of their farms. And, as with other agricultural products, it is those agents that process the seeds into oil that secure the greatest profit, very little of which trickles down to benefit the farmer…In response to these pressures, twenty farming cooperatives have formed the Assosa Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Union. By working together, individual farmers are able to pool their resources and squeeze out exploitative agents and brokers. The Union has sufficient capital that it can afford to wait for prices to reach a level at which it is profitable to sell seeds to market. The Union provides loans to constituent members together with training and advice to help farmers make better use of their land. And by collectively hiring vehicles through the Union, farmers need not spend so much time ferrying their produce to market. ..All these measures benefit farmers and have now provided the Assosa Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Union the confidence to establish an oil-seed processing unit in the regional town of Assosa. With a planned annual output of over 500 tons of oil, the Assosa Edible Oil Processing Facility will create additional income that will be of direct benefit to the farmers that grow oil seeds. The processing unit will be able to transport oil to more distant markets and so insure a better return on their product. The processing plant will employ 28, half of them women. Much of the profit will be ploughed back into the cooperative to fund training and provide credit to farmers. ..Photo: Tom Pietrasik.Assosa. Ethiopia.November 13th 2010