My name is Christopher Mulindwa from Uganda. I am one of the directors of Pig Production & Marketing Uganda Limited and the chairman of Watubba Pig Farmers Association. I do my work with rural farmers and mostly those involved in piggery.
My discussion here will mainly focus on co-operatives in my country Uganda.
Farmer organisations are very impotant to both farmers and community development. United farmers can share ideas, are easy to help and can combine efforts to work out tasks that are difficult to a single farmer like bulk production, input purchase, mechanisation, transportation and many others. Collective savings enables them mount a certain amount of money which can be used to extend credit facilities to themselves escaping the tuff terms and conditions of banks and money lenders. Therefore before governments, NGOs, companies and any other body think about extending grants, loans and any other assistance to farmers must first think about how to get farmers organised.
The major reason as to why most rural farmers in Uganda live in poverty is because they are poorly organised. This has been caused by development bodies poor approach to agriculture development, they have not emphasised the importance of unity among farmers.
For purposes of creating/strengthening farmer organisations, concerned bodies should create an environment where farmers don't get into organisations to recieve donations, assistance or support from them.
In case of shortages, such co-operatives will collapse. Let farmers first understand the importance of co-operatives, create them, sustain them for some time and then assistance comes later. With this approach, farmers contribution towards their own organisations can be easily traced and all farmers will be equally responsible for their groups hence their sustainability.
The fact that most farmers here are not educated and yet should be responsible for their organisation management make us think about management capabilities. Training facilities should be extended to farmers, the introduction of adult education in rural areas would be a right approach to this. Am not in any way recommending strangers to take part in farmer organisations leadership, it is farmers who know who should manage their co-operatives.
Information access is another serious issue, most development bodies provide reading materials in foreign languages for example English which most farmers cannot read and understand. Efforts should be combined together among donors,implementors and farmers to translate all useful literature into local languages that can be read and understood by farmers. This literature should be highly simplified, easy and interesting to read. Expressing information by use of pictures and diagrams would be a right approach.
The use of mobile phones is greatly becoming a cheap and easily accesible means of information. Different innovations should be brought to space in relation to this in order to easy communication and information sharing among farmers.
According to what I have observed, most people here especially the youth regard farming as a failure's job because it is farmers who are living a very poor life, there is few commercial farmers in Uganda.
Subsistance farming is the common activity and also not practiced to its fullness because some farmers may even fail to produce what is enough for their faimilies. Co-operatives would be good actors in eroding this perception out of youth minds, previous census stated that most of the Ugandans are youth making close to 19 Million of tatal population so they would have been the largest food producers in our country. The best approach here would be training farmers from their respective local councils in partnership with their local administration.
For the countries like Uganda whose backbone is agriculture, the government should be more concerned about implementing policies that favor co-operative development. The issue of corruption and embezzlement of funds will be no more if government policies involve farmers in decission making. Farmers will know how to fight for their rights and eliminate wrong characters.
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Related links and resources:
FAO's website on cooperatives and producers organisations
World Food Day
Good practices in building innovative rural institutions to increase food security
Agricultural cooperatives: paving the way for food security and rural development (Brochure)
My.Coop - Managing your agricultural cooperatives
The Group Promoter's Resource Book
The Group Enterprise Resource Book
The Group Savings Resource Book
The Inter-Group Association Resource Book
New Strategies for Mobilizing Capital in Agricultural Cooperatives
Computerizing Agricultural Cooperatives: Practical Guidelines
Cooperatives: Has their Time Come or Gone?
Agricultural cooperative development - A manual for trainers
Capital Formation in Kenyan Farmer-owned Cooperatives: a case study