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Re: Enabling rural cooperatives and producer organizations to thrive as sustainable business enterprises

Mr. Moses Owiny Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), Uganda

I like the idea of Cooperatives having worked with rural women farmers in Northern Uganda who produce large quantities of agricultural produce such as simsim, groundnuts, maize,cassava,beans,millet and many other crops.The challenge with rural farmer groups is that, even when they get together and produce such large quantities, normally there are few buyers of such produce or else they would sell them to small scale retailers who eventually end up cheating them. Lack of market opportunities, linkages with buyers, input suppliers and all those aspects necessary across the value chain is seriously lacking and hence the farmers access to markets or good prices for the crops they would have produced remain a great challenge.

In one of the women groups in Apac District in Northern Uganda under the project on Promoting and improving access to Agricultural Information using ICTs by WOUGNET; we have women farmer groups each consisting of 30 members. One of my experience as a Project Officer by that time around 2008 was that one of our groups had decided to take on the production of Maize as a priority crop and eventually embarked on the production of large quantities.In that year, there was bumper harvest of maize across the region and the prices per kilogram fell drastically. The farmers had huge stock of maize in store whom we thought the price would increase but never again and eventually, disappointed as the farmers and us as the project staff, they had to sell them cheaply as efforts to get good price tag or even negotiate better prices from medium to large scale buyers was extremely difficult by that time.

So in such instances, where the overall aspects of linkages with potential and large scale buyers are lacking, farmers end up producing and selling their crops cheaply.The idea of linkages between farmers and medium buyers for instance is necessary for a sustained mutual and long term relationship in which both of the parties support each other in achieving desired outcomes.Also because farmers would want to satisfy household demands, the produces can not stay in store for long and of course coupled with other factors such as as lack of storage facilities in rural areas and post harvest management of crops for example. I later thought of the idea that if we already had identified some of the buyers and linked them to farmers and introduced some element of value addition, we would have fared well in this example.

Also,Uganda had a strong cooperative base in the early 80's supported by Government and relevant legislation. Today, the whole aspects of cooperatives have dwindled only left for rural farmers, small Government entities and NGOs to support in some instance farmers to form groups/associations to try to achieve certain objectives.Government has abandon the idea of cooperatives and left the market economy to thrive at the expense of cooperatives which could have boosted the market driven economy