Africa | Smallholder farmers

Knowledge = prosperity for Ugandan farmers’ cooperatives

1 December 2020 22:36

“Farmers who combine their knowledge and capacity are stronger together. That’s why the Agribusiness Development Center (ADC) teaches farmers’ cooperatives about their market, management, finances and legislation and regulations. And we’ve observed that the knowledge brings farmers stability and prosperity”, explains Katia Mugenzi from the ADC in Uganda.

Smallholder farmers in training at ADC in Uganda

According to Mugenzi, farmers’ cooperatives are an absolute necessity in a country like Uganda. “Farmers are stronger together in a cooperative. By combining their production, they gain a stronger negotiating position, better access to markets, and have an easier time obtaining loans. And as a registered cooperative, they can also apply for government support in Uganda.” But that only works if they know how to effectively manage a cooperative. That is why Rabo Foundation founded the ADC together with partner bank DFCU in 2017. ADC offers training courses to teach Ugandan farmers’ cooperatives about successful entrepreneurship.

Stable and independent

Farmers can attend the training courses within walking distance of their own farms. ADC offers customized training, in the farmers’ own language and at their own educational level. During six weekly three-hour sessions, they learn more about management skills, financial management and cooperative administration. Mugenzi: “The farmers we train are all members of a cooperative. They’re often referred to us by Rabo Foundation. It’s not an obligation, but Rabo Foundation has often already granted them a loan. If that’s not the case, then we hand them over to Rabo Foundation after the training course. The idea is that they can then become independent, and they can obtain financing via a commercial party such as the Ugandan DFCU bank.”

Growing cooperatives

Around 63% of Ugandans work in agriculture. “That’s why the growth of cooperatives is one of ADC’s goals, because we can help more and more farmers achieve a stable existence”, Mugenzi explains. “We are pleased to see that the cooperatives we help are growing rapidly, both in terms of membership and production. One good example is the Bugerere Dairy Cooperative. A year and a half ago, it had 230 members, and now it has 400. They used to produce 2,000 liters of milk per day, and now they produce 5,000. We also see cooperatives, especially coffee farmers, that have achieved the knowledge and growth necessary to export their product. That gives them a stronger position in the market.”

Accessible platform

ADC aims to reach as many people as possible. “After the training courses, we keep in contact with the cooperatives via a mentorship program, and we assist them with things like drawing up a business plan. ADC is also developing an e-learning platform where farmers can watch videos and infographics in their own language, and complete the lessons at their own pace. The platform will be easily accessible via smartphones and computers in learning hubs that are going to be set up. That way, we hope to reach more women and young people, because it is difficult to involve them in the face-to-face training courses. Together with our partner SIMU+, we also create lessons that people can listen to over the telephone, which extends our reach even further.”

ADC and the coronavirus

ADC has already trained 7,758 farmers from 114 cooperatives, and by 2022 they aim to have trained 375 cooperatives. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has affected Uganda as well, and the country has been in full lockdown since 31 March. Mugenzi: “Our training courses have all been put on hold, but we still see opportunities to keep the farmers we know up to date. We use text messages in their local language to remind them how important it is to follow the control measures, and that they should only use their savings for truly essential expenses, since we don’t know how long the situation will last. We try to use our position as an organization they trust to do our part to keep the pandemic under control.”