This is a story of one cooperative's journey in transforming its members' lives.
Bwera-Katoojo, one of the SNV supported satellite collection points (SCP) in South Western Uganda, has taken up collective bulking to boost the income of its members. In a period of only five months, Bwera-Katoojo satellite collection point has managed to collect and bulk 14.7 metric tonnes of maize grain from its members, despite the prolonged drought in the country.
Post-harvest handling of produce remains a big challenge in Uganda, undermining quantity, quality and price of produce as well as food security and income in the long term. Interventions such as the use of airtight storage equipment and construction of bulking stores for collective marketing have been put in place for farmers to reduce these losses. However, these technologies are not yet accessible to most rural farmers although initiatives by Government and development partners are being put in place to help farmers manage post-harvest losses.
In Western Uganda, the majority of farmers still lack appropriate knowledge, skills and technologies on post-harvest handling, thus leading to high post-harvest losses of between 20%-40% for grains. Post-harvest losses undermine farmers’ efforts and resources invested in grain production. It also undermines farmers’ position as credible market players. The bigger dilemma is that even the few farmers that have taken up improved outdoor storage facilities are getting discouraged because of rampant crop theft, revealing a new dimension to the post-harvest handling challenges in South Western Uganda.
A farmer dries maize on turplin to ensure clean grain
In 2015, the World Food Programme (WFP) under the Purchase for Progress (P4P) project constructed five satellite collection points; Kyabarungira SCP, Bigando SCP, Kakoga SCP, Kabirizi SCP and Hima-Muhumuza. An additional satellite collection point - Bwera-Katoojo was constructed in January 2016. Although farmers now have storage facilities where they can bulk and sell their grain during off-peak seasons, the concept of bulking and collective selling is yet to be fully appreciated by many farmers. A majority of the farmers still continue to sell outside the established bulking and collection points leaving the satellite collection points underutilised. Bwera-Katoojo, the youngest satellite collection point however seems to have learnt from the weaknesses of the other five and fully embraced collective bulking. To support most of its members, many of whom live 20-35 kilometres away from the satellite collection point, the SCP encouraged its members to bring their grain straight from their gardens to the SCP where they can comfortably dry it within the safe confines of the SCP. This has cut down on the farmers transportation costs. At the end of July, the satellite collection point had bulked 14.7 metric tonnes of maize grain despite the massive crop failure across the country due to prolonged drought. Although the 14.7 metric tonnes does not measure up to a significant quantity given the SCP’s size of 200 MT, the zeal and enthusiasm of the farmers says it all. The SCP is on the right track and farmers are working hard to fill it in the January 2017 harvesting season.
Maize being stored at the satellite collection point
The construction of Bwera-Katoojo SCP has triggered and motivated more smallholder farmers to get involved in maize production. The number of farmers actively involved in maize production has increased from 70 to 100 smallholder, all of whom bulk and sell their maize grain through the satellite collection point. To reduce on post-harvest losses to its members because of damage by rats and elephants from Queen Elizabeth National park, the SCP encouraged its members to bring their grain directly from the garden to the SCP and dry their grain from inside the SCP unlike before when farmers used to dry their grain in the garden, transport it home (often 20-35 kilometres) to store it and then transport it again to the market. Farmers are also able to use the motorised shelling machine at the SCP which has reduced the shelling labour costs from 50 UGX to 25 UGX per kilo of grain shelled. This has helped the farmers reduce on post-harvest losses and attract buyers with better prices for their bulked grain.
For Kule Innocent, a farmer and a member to Bwera-Katoojo Cooperative, the SNV good agronomic practice trainings in maize production and the store constructed by WFP was the motivation he needed to embrace maize production. "I used to plough an acre from which I would harvest 600 kg and earn on average UGX 240,000 (70 USD). In the last season, after learning about good agronomic practices, I increased my acreage to 2 acres and harvested 1,450 Kg despite the prolonged dry spell. I have bulked my maize in the store and expect to sell at a fair price in November. I am able to bulk because we now have good post-harvest inputs such as tarpaulins for drying and sieving materials that are helping us get clean and good quality grain."
Bulking has increased the farmers bargaining power and they are now able to negotiate with buyers and get better prices for their grain.
Bwera-Katoojo SCP also supports its farmers who are in dire need of money by buying their grain at 650 UGX per kilo, which is still higher than the local market price of 400 UGX. The cooperative currently provides each farmer a subsidy of 20,000 UGX towards tractor hire cost per acre in a bid to motivate farmers to increase acreage.
The SCP has a standard and genuine weighing scale that provides transparent weighing system to the farmers. The standardisation of the weighing system has saved farmers from fraudulent buyers who manipulate weighing scales to cheat farmers. “A buyer at Kibara trading centre weighed my maize and got 20 kg, I was not satisfied. I told him that we go to Bwera-kajooto and use their weighing scale. When we used Bwera-Kajooto weighing scale the weight was 25 kg," Alice Kapuru had to say about the SCP weighing scale.
Bwera-Katoojo cooperative management is exploring additional means of boosting its member’s morale and involvement in the SCP. One of the proposals they have identified is the establishment of a savings and credit scheme (SACCO) to encourage framers to save and also access loans to finance their agricultural production. The SACCO currently has a membership of 76 members with a share capital of 7,000,000 UGX (2,040 USD), total savings of 18,000,000 UGX (5,265 USD) and a loan portfolio of 16,000,000 UGX (4680 USD).