About this page

GiveWell aims to find the best giving opportunities we can and recommend them to donors. We tend to put a lot of investigation into the organizations we find most promising, and de-prioritize others based on limited information. When we decide not to prioritize an organization, we try to create a brief writeup of our thoughts on that charity because we want to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning.

The following write-up should be viewed in this context: it explains why we determined that we wouldn't be prioritizing the organization in question as a potential top charity. This write-up should not be taken as a "negative rating" of the charity. Rather, it is our attempt to be as clear as possible about the process by which we came to our top recommendations.

A note on this page's publication date

The last time we examined COMACO was in 2010. In our latest open-ended review of charities, we determined that it was unlikely to meet our criteria based on our past examination of it, so we did not revisit it.

We invite all charities that feel they meet our criteria to apply for consideration.

The content we created in 2010 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to what it says about COMACO and with respect to what it implies about our own views and positions. With that said, we do feel that the takeaways from this examination are sufficient not to prioritize re-opening our investigation of this organization at this time.

Published: 2010

COMACO creates trading centers in Zambia to facilitate local farmers' selling their goods and offers training to farmers to improve their ability to take advantage of the program.1

We reviewed COMACO in late 2009 as part of our process to distribute $250,000 in funds to an economic empowerment organization in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Our review consisted of reviewing COMACO's website and speaking by phone with Dale Lewis, COMACO's Chief Executive Officer.


We focused on COMACO because the potential impact of its approach is similar to cash-transfer programs whereby charities directly transfer wealth to poor individuals. COMACO aims to pay producers higher-than-market prices for their products thereby transferring wealth directly to them.2 However, COMACO told us that it does not have data on market prices in the areas it works and therefore is unable at this time to estimate the size of its wealth transfer.3

We evaluated COMACO by considering the questions we have for cash-transfer programs. Based on the information we reviewed, we were unable to address our concerns and therefore cannot confidently recommend COMACO to individual donors.

We note that:

  • In 2001, COMACO conducted a baseline survey of farmers an areas it which it now works.4 This survey was not specific to farmers COMACO worked with.5 We have not seen more recent data.
  • COMACO publishes considerably more data on its operations than the average charity we've reviewed and deserves praise for the commitment to transparency. Unfortunately, the most recent data on its website is from 2005-2006, and does not make a compelling case for COMACO's impact on clients' standard of living.6


  • 1

    "Community residents benefit from this trading centre by receiving high market value for goods they produce and having access to affordable farmer inputs and improved farming skills on the condition that they adopt land use practices that help conserve their area's natural resources." COMACO, "About COMACO."

  • 2

    "In order to motivate farmers to abandon destructive land use practices, it must offer competitive prices for more desirable commodities than other commercial interests who compete for the same land the same farmers. This literally means giving away a portion of its potential profits at the early stage of COMACO's development at a particular trading centre." COMACO, "Business Results."

  • 3

    Dale Lewis, phone conversation with GiveWell, May 25, 2010.

  • 4

    "The primary purpose of this survey was to establish baseline data on household food security, individual income, income sources, and estimated rates of wildlife depletion by local hunters. The College undertook this work from 18 April to 27 May, 2001." COMACO, "Preliminary Report on Luangwa Valley GMA Baseline Survey," Pg 1.
    COMACO, "Annual Report on COMACO Phase Two: Expansion Across Luangwa Valley," Pg 35 shows that COMACO currently works throughout the Luangwa Valley.

  • 5

    "Selection of villages was based on stratified sampling in reference to a map showing the location of all villages. In cases where villages occurred near wildlife sensitive areas, the survey team increased sampling effort. Households were selected for interviews using two approaches. One was a random selection. In this case, all household names were first listed and a random selection process was used to identify those households the team visited. The other approach used a selection criteria in which households headed by known local hunters were chosen." COMACO, "Preliminary Report on Luangwa Valley GMA Baseline Survey," Pg 1.

  • 6

    Two examples:

    • Food security: COMACO's website says: "84.6% of households who practiced conservation farming and compost fertilizer achieved food security to the nine-month target, as opposed to only 70.1% for farmers who did not practice conservation farming. In years prior to COMACO, farmers demonstrated lower levels of food security, ranging from a high of 77.3% in 2000 to 48.9% in 2001." COMACO, "Food Security Trends."
      • Selection bias issues may be significant in this comparison - that is, people who practiced conservation farmer may have differed systematically from those who did not, in ways that didn't relate to COMACO's program.
      • The time-series comparison shows large year-to-year variation in food security (see chart at COMACO, "Food Security Trends") implying that donors should be somewhat skeptical of attributing the rise in reported food security to COMACO's program.
    • Crop yields: COMACO's website says: "Based on these mean values, increase in maize yields attributed to CF with and without composting in comparison to traditional farming practices was 151.5 kg and 103.2 kg, respectively." COMACO, "Crop Yields."
      • The differences between yields for the two groups are small and have large standard deviations. According the the chart at COMACO, "Crop Yields," program participants (i.e. those using 'conservation farming' or CF and compost) had a maize yield of 1140.7 kg on average, with error bars which extend from about 800 to 1475 kg. The average yield for farmers not using CF or compost was 989.1, which is well within the error bars of the yield for participants, and which is shown with a similarly wide margin of error. It is not clear what measure of variability these error bars represent, but they suggest that there may be a high probability that the difference in yield between the two groups can be attributed to chance.

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