Damson Muhumuza, 36, tills the land to provide basic needs for his eight-member household in Lwangabi, Kakasi sub-county, Kitagwenda district.
Over the last 20 years, in which he has grown mainly maize and rice, Muhumuza has seen not only changes in weather patterns, but also a gradual diminishing of the soil quality.
These factors had led to a reduction in his yields. He, therefore, sought better farming practices to improve his food production.
“I wanted to use advanced methods of farming, but I couldn’t access trainings due to lack of funds. Due to my insufficient knowledge, I was also against applying chemicals to my garden. This was coupled with poor roads in our area, which hindered access to the market for good prices for our yields,” he says.
In 2013, the challenges prompted him to join 20 other farmers in his village to collectively find solutions.
The group later connected with Kyendangala Area Co-operative Enterprise (ACE), which, since its inception in 2002, has helped farmers access markets for their produce.
The farmers bulk their produce and negotiate a good price for it.
Muhumuza says he has since received training in various agronomic practices, such as line planting and fertiliser application safety, through the co-operative.
“The network of groups and different farmers easily attracts opportunities. You can barely get training or get good prices for your yields, if you work as an individual,” he said.
Kyendangala ACE works with 1,296 farmers in the production of rice, maize, beans and coffee in Bukulungu town council, Mashoro town council and Mashoro sub-county in Kitagwenda district.
The chairperson of the group, Emmanuel Ntamushobora, says due to the poor road network and distance to markets in areas such as Rubirizi district, it is challenging for a farmer to work alone.
The co-operative support farmers to control and improve quality, especially in maize and rice projects, through training. And that’s not all. Farmer groups provide other several benefits to farmers.
Encourage value addition
The Kyendangala ACE has five rural producer organisations, which are centres that collect produce from farmers.
“We buy the harvest, add value, and sell the final product. Through the planting and harvesting seasons, we strengthen quality control to ensure that we have the quality and quantity needed in the market,” Ntamushobora said.
He adds that to serve farmers better, the co-operative recently secured a sh200m grant from the Agriculture Cluster Development Project, a partnership project of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries and the World Bank.
Under the project, Kyendangala has acquired and installed a modern maize milling machine, which has enhanced agro-processing.
In addition, the partnership enables the co-operative to provide improved seeds, fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides.
Kyendangala has also supported the establishment of a village savings and loans association, which provides financial support to farmers.
In northern Uganda, the Otuke town council farmers’ Savings and Credit Co-operative Organisation (SACCOS) attempted to solve the problem of price fluctuations by converting farm produce into finished goods.
MacDonald Ojok, 35, borrowed money from the SACCOS and bought milling machines. Today, he earns sh60,000 a day as farmers bring their produce for processing at his mill.
“Milling here saves farmers from high transport costs and theft of their produce. Previously, we would go to Lira, a distance of over 40km. It was not only costly, but the farmers lost some of their produce on the way due to robbery,” he says.
In Aber sub-county in Oyam district, northern Uganda, Aber Commercial Farmers Co-operative Society Limited is spearheading the “Chase hunger Project,” an initiative to improve the livelihood of people.
Hassan Ochen, the chairperson, says the society, which started with seven people, has grown to 45 farmer groups. They have since formed an association out of it, with 195 members.
Through groups, farmers regularly organise and learn from each other’s gardens about soil fertility management He observes that community demonstration plots are key learning platforms for farmers in the groups.
At their demonstration farm, which is run in partnership with the National Agricultural Research Organisation, the group has examined the difference between using and not using fertilisers as well as broadcasting and planting in lines.
For seeds such as millet and simsim, broadcasting, which involves scattering seeds around the prepared farmland, is okay, but maize, beans and groundnuts have to be planted in lines for easier weeding.
Promoting climate-smart agriculture
Everine Stella Among, an agricultural officer in Otuke town council, says groups are essential in promoting climate-smart agriculture because a model farmer inspires others to adopt technologies such as mini sprinklers and peddle pumps.
After using modern irrigation methods, Bosco Odyenyi, 63, a resident of Otuke, realised high yields of cabbages, tomatoes and sweet potatoes.
As a result, there is a high demand for water sprinkler equipment in Otuke town council.
Odyenyi has since trained other farmers in his group to use the technologies to avert the effects of climate change.
“Through groups, farmers regularly organise and learn from each other’s gardens about soil fertility management, soil and water conservation and pest and disease management,” Christine Kyomugisha, the regenerative agriculture programme officer at the Sasakawa Africa Association, says.
She also encourages farmers to utilise groups to save finances for the purpose of improving their farming, noting that various technologies are expensive and hard to get as an individual.
“You can save money as a group and target buying a certain technology, for example, a maize sheller, irrigation equipment, or a tiller. When the group acquires the equipment, it eases assess for individual farmers and hence increases productivity,” she says.
Co-operatives in Uganda
Experts define a co-operative as an association of persons (an organisation) that is owned and controlled by the people to meet their common economic, social, and/or cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled business (enterprise).
Uganda enacted the Co-operative Societies Act, 2020, which says a person qualifies for membership in a co-operative when they have attained the age of 18 years.
The person must also be a resident of or in occupation of land within the society’s area of operation as prescribed by the relevant bylaw.
The Act also stipulates that no society shall be registered under this Act unless it consists of at least 30 persons all of whom are qualified for membership of the society.
Farmers benefit from co-operatives
Julius Murumba, a senior agricultural officer in Isingiro district, which has over 560 groups and 18 farmer co-operatives, says organising farmers into groups and co-operatives enables the availability of inputs.
He explains that the good returns secured through co-operatives help farmers access funds to buy inputs such as seeds and fertiliser.
Organising farmers into groups and co-operatives enables the availability of inputs.
Co-operatives also provide storage and a ready market for the farmers produce.
“Some co-operatives have established bulking centres and storage facilities that reduce post-harvest losses. The collective effort enables bulking of produce, which consequently attracts buyers,” he says.