Eight Canadian co-operators are visiting Uganda to learn about CCA’s Integrated Finance and Agricultural Production Initiative (IFAPI) model. CCA and the Uganda Co-operative Alliance have developed an innovative approach to rural development by linking agricultural co-operatives, marketing co-ops and savings and credit co-operatives.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The look of sustainability

We visited numerous farms during our time in Uganda. One thing that became clear very quickly was that the land is ultra fertile and the diversification among the crops farmers can yield is quite vast.
Below is a photo essay capturing a few of the commonly seen commodity crops that provide sustainability for the farmer’s families; their communities and whoever is on the receiving end of the exporting trail. Most important to note though is that the farming practice is the livelihood of many Ugandans and it truly sustains their families and provides a life with potential for future generations.

Cassava – a root vegetable, starchy much like the potato. It is a main source of carbohydrates for many and considered a staple crop. Another staple crop not pictured here, but grown extensively is maize (corn). cassava

Coffee beans – *The ripe coffee fruits (cherries) go through a number of operations aimed at extracting the beans from their covering of pulp, mucilage, parchment and film to improve their appearance. The resulting clean coffee can then be roasted and ground to obtained the coffee powder which if fit for human consumption. *To learn more about processing, click here. Cocoa is also grown in Uganda.
coffee beans

Dried moringa – Moringa leaves are considered to have the highest protein ratio of any plant so far studied on earth. The dried form of the leaf offers extremely high nutritional value and is said to also provide healing and medicinal benefits.
dried moringa

Eggs – Farmers rely on a variety of farm animals just as we do in Canada. Spotted frequently were chickens, roosters, pigs, goats and cows. As well, we did see a variety of vegetables being farmed such as cabbage and other leafy greens but they weren’t seen nearly as often as the crops pictured here. Male roosters can be sold for up to 40,000 shillings while a producing mama pig can fetch 400,000 shillings!

Eucalyptus – We finally figured out how all the Ugandans kept their pearly whites so bright! Using the eucalyptus leaf for a toothbrush, the leaf has cleansing properties and tastes oh so minty fresh! Eucalyptus is also harvested for its lumber. We also saw many farms that grew pine trees and teak trees (also harvested for lumber upon maturity which takes around 20 years).

Ground nuts – A tasty nut, much like the peanut, ground nuts (or gnuts as the Ugandans reference them) are from a legume subfamily and offer a source of protein.

Honey - Lots of bees in Uganda, lots of bees who liked to chase me! Honey collection, fish farming and mushroom harvesting (below) are common jobs that youth and women often undertake in RPOs (rural producer organizations).

Mushrooms - Unlike other cash crops, the mushroom is one of the most affordable because it requires less space and manpower but pays very well.

Oranges – Many delicious fruits can be found in groves (pardon the pun) all over Uganda. We also saw trees that produced bananas, mangoes and papayas.

Simsim (sesame) – Harvested particularly in the north, roasted sesame paste is mixed into a stew of beans or greens and served as a side dish, sesame paste may be served as a condiment; a candy is made from roasted sesame seeds with sugar or honey. *For more on Ugandan cuisine click here.

Beans - Uganda is the world’s 8th largest producer of dry beans.

Farmers receive training on crop diversification through the Uganda Co-operative Association and ACE’s (marketing co-operatives). Due to this newly gained knowledge they reach a new level of success when they branch out and begin farming more crop varieties.

Jenn Nelson

Monday, December 10, 2012

Eye-opening, life-changing experience

Taking photos at a Kampala arts and craft market, left to right, are: Laurie Tennian, Jim Harris, Cindy Corrigan and Lacey Chyz.

I found myself smiling a lot while I was in northern Uganda, infected, as our team leader Karen Timoshuk put it, by the “contagious smiles” of its warm and welcoming people.

This is despite the abject poverty that overwhelmed our senses everywhere we went, from the acrid smells of open latrines and burning rubbish to the soft cries of street beggars pleading for a few shillings.

Yet in this sea of human misery we found sprigs of hope shooting up from its murky waters. This was captured in the words and photos of the SACCO, RPO and ACE members who walked incredible distances of 5, 10 and even 20 kilometres, to share their heartbreaking – and heartwarming - stories with us.

On the last day of our two-week journey of discovery, our team of Canadian co-operators and communicators, reflected on our shared experience and its impact on us as individuals.

Cindy Corrigan, director with the East Kootenay Credit Union in British Columbia, was struck by the pride she saw in the people she met with. “That pride came to me so forcefully it rocked me. Somehow I want to bottle that and I want to take it back home. I want to stand in front of a room and share that passion.”

Rolf Traichel, director with the Federated Co-operatives Limited in Alberta, said the story he planned to tell when he returned to Canada was that Ugandans are people “just like us. They want their kids to go to school just like us. They want to build a house just like us. They want to have financial security just like us.”

Adele McGuire, an accountant with the Metro Credit Union in Prince Edward Island, was “amazed just how much they (Ugandans) believe in co-operative values. They seem to really thrive on co-operative values and really want to belong there (SACCO).”

Jim Harris, communications specialist with Manitoba Central, agreed. “The spirit of co-operation and the importance of co-operatives here (in Uganda) is something we can share back in Canada.”

Lacey Chyz, communications and member relations officer with the Lakeland Credit Union in Alberta, said the mission validated her dedication to the advancement of the co-operative movement among youth. “All along my goal has been to bring back to Canada the co-operative values I believe in so strongly.”

Both Deborah Chatterton, public relations professional with Vancity in BC and Jennifer Nelson, travel writer and representative of Saskatchewan Central, both spoke of the strides the Ugandans have made in releasing poverty’s grip under IFAPI, an innovative approach CCA and UCA have taken to rural development in northern Uganda. Though Ugandans' measure of success is small by Canadian standards, Deborah said it had changed her definition of prosperity.

With those parting words we parted ways, convinced, more than ever, that the co-operative model is the best model to help people in need provide food, shelter and well-being for their families.

We left Uganda both sad and happy. Tired but inspired. Changed people that are determined to become better global citizens.

I can think of no better way to end the International Year of Co-operatives than to have witnessed first-hand how co-operatives and credit unions are empowering people to build a better world.

Rayanne Brennan

Thursday, December 6, 2012

No longer "under the rule of guns"

Justus Kasaugatu and his wife Eves Kasangaki, members of Brecco SACCO
In a Growing Business
Today we are winging our way back to Canada, our heads and hearts filled with the moving stories Ugandans shared with us – stories of how the partnership between the Canadian Co-operative Association and Uganda Co-operative Alliance has helped them to build better lives for them, their families and their communities.

For me, the memories include clasping a farmer’s black hand in mine and demonstrating the meaning of CCA’s “hand-up-versus-hand-out” approach to aid.

We were discussing the Integrated Financial Agricultural Product Initiative, an innovative program developed and delivered by the UCA in collaboration with the CCA that links agricultural co-operatives and savings and credit co-operatives to promote rural development.

In the rural areas of Northern Uganda where this model has emerged, farmers now have access to local primary co-operatives, second tier marketing and supply co-operatives, and SACCOs which provide all important financial services.

John Kennedy, a soya and maize farmer in Nyaravur, is among the 6,000 Ugandan producers that are pooling and marketing their produce through co-ops. “With this bulking we have a ready market for our products and we are realizing more profits.”
This is confirmed by IFAPI survey findings, which showed that in 2011-12, members of rural producer organizations increased their revenue by a combined 30 per cent.
The farmers we interviewed during our two-week study mission also reported significant increases in productivity as a result of the training they received in best farm management practices under IFAPI. In some cases the growers doubled and even tripled their yields thanks to this capacity building program.

Natural resources
The farmers also recognized that Uganda’s agriculture sector could be sustainable, even profitable, given the country’s rich natural resources, but only provided IFAPI continue to bridge their knowledge gap with training.

Indeed, Ugandan farmers have natural advantages that Canadians would envy – a favourable climate that allows for two growing seasons and the ability to produce a wide variety of crops, plus fertile soil and plenty of untilled land.

However, compared to Canada’s agriculture industry, Uganda’s is decades behind, with many of the farmers we met still using hand hoes to seed their crops. UCA officials we spoke to during our debriefing in Kampala cited two reasons for the apparent lack of progress – “politics” and over 20 years of civil war.

In some cases, farmers were forced to abandon their farms and others that remained risked having the fruits of their efforts stolen by rebel soldiers.

The war’s impact on Uganda’s agriculture sector is still very much in evidence by the rudimentary practices and tools farmers employ in production.

However, this is changing as farmers, no longer “under the rule of guns”, return to the land to carve new lives out of Uganda’s red soil, aware of the tremendous potential it holds and guided by the knowledge they have gained from IFAPI and the co-operatives it has helped to form.

Rayanne Brennan

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Changing Attitudes

We all know just how difficult it is to change attitudes. It can be harder still to change habits. Generally changes in habit occur when someone has become enlightened or has experienced a paradigm shift. The difference in how one approaches life after such revelations can often bring on positive change to themselves, their environment and others.

I was fortunate to hear a story of a man who experienced such a shift he attributes to an educational experience. Deo, a farmer with the Bomido SACCO received various training sessions run by the Uganda Co-operative Alliance (UCA). One such session he shared had a significant impact on a very important relationship in his life; the one with his wife.

After receiving gender equality training by the UCA Deo realized that there would be more to gain in life if he took a different approach to this important relationship. He said that “after 30 years of marriage I have now learned to respect her, we now have peace, we now work together.”

Wow. That was powerful. As a woman who has experience a relationship with mutual respect; had the opportunity to educate myself; and the ability to exhibit and be proud of my independence and freedom, it made me think a lot. In fact, it has been four days since we spoke with Deo and now I sit thinking of our conversation while I type this post from a van that is travelling through the rural parts of northern Uganda.

Admittedly, I was truly taken aback when Deo cited this training and his change of habit as the biggest and most important life changer. It wasn’t only because he was so honest but rather it was because I haven’t had concerns about gender equality as it relates to me in terms of a relationship. My following thoughts were that gosh, his wife must be so happy and now feel so empowered. To be considered a partner and be provided with the much-needed level of respect, having accessed her independence must be life changing for her.

In Uganda, women do not always have the same rights or access to the same opportunities that men do. However, through the co-operative movement, lives are changing and the role women are playing is evolving. This has become clear to me on this journey as I continue to meet enlightened men and incredible women who now, through education and a more level playing field are doing amazing things.

Jennifer Nelson

The unbankable....

Armstrong Abdubango, Dikiri Kabucan SACCO (micro credit co-operative)

CCA-UCA partnership promotes trusted places to save, borrow, insure

Before SACCOS (credit unions) were formed in the rural Ugandan communities we visited, people hid their savings under mattresses, in holes in walls. They even buried them in termite hills.
Robberies were common. Some lost all the money they tucked away when fire burned their thatched clay huts. Savings were buried and never found after a family member died, having failed to disclose the money’s location. Savings were even eaten by rats, lured by the smell left on the bills by previous handlers, like fish mongers.

Those that did their banking at commercial institutions were frequently ripped off. Some were “very embarrassed”, in the words of Brecco SACCO members, to discover that their meagre savings had disappeared due to high “service” charges on their accounts. Often they were refused loans, being part of the rural poor that were deemed “unbankable” by the private sector banks. In addition, the distances that separated them and the banks made it too costly for most to do anything but make sure their money was well hidden from thieves and rodents.

Olivia Mugisa, Brecco SACCO treasurer acknowledged “you can’t do your banking at home.” However, the rural poor had limited options when it came to savings and loans.

That changed 10 years ago when the Uganda Co-operative Alliance, joined with the Canadian Co-operative Association, to design and implement a program that would help to build sustainable livelihoods and reduce poverty in the sectors of agriculture, finance and micro, small and medium enterprise development (MSME).

Trusted places

One of its main thrusts was to encourage the formation of SACCOs, community-owned savings and loans institutions that provide poor and middle class households with trusted places to save, borrow and insure.
In the decade that has followed the launch of IFAPI (Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative), the number of SACCOs has increased from eight to 22 in northern Uganda. These democratically-controlled, member-owned centres now play a significant role in the socio-economic development of the communities they serve.

“Now we know how to sell our products,” said Brecco SACCO member Stella Kannyege. “We know how to save money and pay it back. We know how to control our businesses. And we know how to build groups.”

The ripple effect of these micro credit co-operatives has spread throughout northern Ugandan society.

Impact on women

Louis Odhur, a widow and farmer in Omoyo, said her SACCO’s promotion of gender equality has had a positive impact on the women in her community. “They do not fear things now. When there are meetings they attend. It has given them courage.”

Robert Parmu, loans officer with the Erussi SACCO, said women are now borrowing money to pay for their children’s schooling, independently of their husbands, resulting in greater “harmony in the homesteads.” Other outcomes have been a reduction in domestic violence, substance abuse and crime.
“People can now take care of their lives and control of their own destiny,” Chegere SACCO manager Peter Aceny said. “We say no more going back. We are moving forward. We are continuing until reach our destination – sustainability.”

Rayanne Brennan

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The never ending handshake...

It may be a never ending handshake. But, that is a good sign. This is a short clip on how Ugandans shake hands.

Jennifer Nelson

Monday, December 3, 2012

An innovative co-operator

Mr Jenaro Onenboth

“I am proud of this place – there are so many opportunities”,  Mr. Onenboth beams when he talks to Canadian co-operators who visited his farm last week in the village of Erussi in Northern Uganda.   Travelling through the terraced fields at 10,000 feet, the Canadian co-operators who are part of the CCA Study Mission to Uganda were excited to meet the innovative coffee farmer.  Mr. Onenboth farms 5,000 coffee plants on 7 acres – last year he planted 2,000 coffee plants.

Mr. Onenboth was the first Chairperson of the Erussi Rural Producers Organization (RPO) which started in 2006 with 147 members.  In 2012 there are more than 400 members.  Individual farmers decided to form a co-op in 2006 to access services and training on best agricultural practices and enterprise management.  The members of the RPO grow coffee, maize, potatoes, and onions in the highlands of Northern Uganda. 

Through the training he received through the Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative partnership between the Uganda Co-operative Alliance and the Canadian Co-operative Association, Mr. Onenboth has changed his farming practices, increased his yield by 300% and now produces better coffee.   He has also trained more than 700 farmers (159 women) – 87 of these farmers have increased their income to allow them to build brick houses rather than thatched grass huts .  The RPO also conducts training session on bee keeping.

Award for best micro-entrepreneur
Last year Mr. Onenboth won a bronze award for outstanding micro-entrepreneur – he placed in the top 30 micro-enterprises (out of 1,300) in Uganda which has had a positive impact on the community, and provided local employment .  Some challenges he has encountered include transporting his coffee to market which is extremely difficult as the roads are poor, storage facilities are not available and access to markets outside Uganda and Congo (which he currently sells to). 

His plans in the next two years are to pursue agro-tourism opportunities, receive Fair Trade certification so he can export to North America and provide more training services to members of the Erussi Rural Producer Organizations.   “Through the intervention of UCA and CCA, my family has increased our income, have a better home, paid school fees for my children, improved production techniques and employed 2 people in the agro-input shop in my village”. 

Laurie Tennian
Mr Onenboth's home
Mr Onenboth (r)and UCA field officer George Okechagiw

Bridging the Gap...

Co-operatives helping the disadvantaged

Sister Mary Atimango and MUWOGORO member Paula Atimango stand before group's harvest of maize
The mothers spread blankets across the green grass and cradled their infants under the leafy shades of Itek trees. Laughter filled the air as the women talked and their older children played with news friends. It looked like they were enjoying a picnic. “It’s screening day for AIDs,” Sister Mary Atimango said as we strolled past the village’s health centre. We were headed toward the garden and fish pond her organization created as part of its mandate to help disadvantaged women become self-reliant.

Sister Atimango heads the Mungudit Women Group (MUWOGORO, which means “God is Good”). It has undertaken a number of initiatives to build the capacity of its membership through skills training and ultimately reduce poverty in Eurussi and surrounding area. MUWOGORO has a bakery to produce bread, cakes, mandazi and hosts for Catholic masses and a small mushroom farm. Members also receive training in home economics, food security and nutrition as well as reading and writing. Plus they receive counselling on HIV/AIDS and other health-related issues.
Not far from this mountaintop village, young men like Brian Ouuku are learning to become self-sufficient through the Boda Boda Association. The Boda Boda is a term that refers to fare-charging motorcylists, similar to cab drivers.
Until Ouuku, 22, joined this group of young entrepreneurs the future looked bleak. “I was idle. I had nothing to do.” He had limited education, having dropped out of school when his father died 10 years ago. Ouuku worked on his family’s subsistence farm to keep the household fed. Today he has ambitious goals for the future. “If I work hard I plan to get a motorcycle and God willing, in the next few years, to get a taxi car.” He will turn to his local SACCO, a savings and micro credit co-operative, assisted by the Canadian Co-operative Association in partnership with its Ugandan counterpart the Uganda Co-operative Alliance, for the loans.
“My life has improved,” Ouuku, who is youth representative on the Dikri Kabucan SACCO board said. “I can now earn a living, but I have not yet reached my expectations.”
When asked if he is a role model for his peers he replied, “Yes, it is obvious. There are some that encourage me, some that admire me. But there are some that discourage me,” he added added.
Life is very difficult for youth in Uganda, Ouuku acknowledged. “There are few job prospects, even for young men and women who hold university degrees. Their situation can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, and even crime. “You find the youth in the video halls. You find them in the trees smoking and drinking,” said Nyamutoro Sophie Prosper, SACCO manager, who had joined us to translate our interview.
The stories that we have collected on our Canadian Co-operative Association mission have been both heartbreaking and heartwarming. They are stories of organizations like SACCOs, Rural Producer Organizations and Agricultural Co-operative Enterprises uniting through the joint partnership of the CCA and UCA, to raise the standard of living for the rural poor.
In northern Uganda, this alliance is responsible for the development and implementation of the Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative. The strategy’s main elements are to improve skills, to raise productivity, lower poverty and to increase access to financial services.
It is making a difference for the young men that belong to the Boda Boda association and the women that are members of MUWOGORO.
Right now the 40 members of Boda Boda group shares two motorcycles but plan to acquire a third. And they have used the proceeds from fares to purchase 16 goats. Their goal is to increase the association’s membership, just as the goats will multiply in offspring, for the mutual benefit of all.
And some members, like Ouuku will learn and earn from this joint enterprise to become self-employed and self-sufficient.
Rayanne Brennan

The Most Commonly Asked Question in Uganda...

It has been a week since I unzipped my suit case, pulled out my sandals and began walking through the red dirt of Uganda with the locals.

Yesterday afternoon after a slow stroll through the village we sat under a shade tree and it wasn't long before the usual entourage of children gathered around. Two women came out of a grass thatched hut carrying two silver platters draped with a decorative doilies. Yes, silver platters. As I looked around at the kids who had no shoes on I wasn't exactly surprised that we were being served something sweet but the Canadian in me did feel a bit of guilt.

 Many times since we arrived the locals who appear to have so little, have offered us so much. These women presented us with coca-cola sodas and cookies and then I heard the echo. The most commonly asked question. "When are you going to come back to Uganda?"

Every time I'm asked I think to myself, I never want to leave, therefore I'll never have to 'come back.' Of course that isn't an appropriate or accurate response so I laugh and say "not soon enough my friend." 

As blessed as my Ugandan friends may feel to have me here, the truth is Uganda will be with me wherever I go. It is the cooperative way to want to help others so they can help themselves. As a cooperator and Canadian I wonder, do they realize how much their stories have helped me?

Lacey Chyz