Uganda : Kyazanga Farmersâ€™ Cooperative Society brings smiles to women and youths in Lwengo
Kyazanga Farmersâ€™ Cooperative Society was founded in 1997 with a group of about 30 farmers who started a savings group in a small rented store. With some saving and marketing, the group grew from 30 to 1,098 farmers. These farmers are organized into 60 farmer groups with each group having between 25 to 30 farmers. Groups are spread across five districts: Lyantonde, Sembabule, Rakai, Lwengo and greater Masaka. Each group has a change agent with whom Kyazanga Cooperative Society works closely. The growth in participating farmer numbers has been due to a number of reasons, one of which has been good partnerships. The cooperative grows maize and beans but specializes mostly in beans, to be specific: NARO Bean 1, 2 and 3. These varieties are sold to agrodealers, seed companies and smallholder farmers.
AFAP started working with Kyazanga Cooperative Society in 2018 under the BMGF program, called the hub agrodealer development program. Under this program, AFAP has: provided connections to fertilizer markets; built the capacity of extension staff; and supported demand-creation activities by establishing demo plots. Many of these efforts have greatly improved the operations of the cooperative and boosted member loyalty.
At the beginning of 2020, the coronavirus did not seem to pose any danger to Uganda and was largely viewed as Chinaâ€™s concern. However, as for many other Ugandan businesses, the pandemic took Kyazanga Farmersâ€™ Cooperative Society by surprise, especially in terms of how rapidly it spread. Measures to reduce the transmission of the virus included restrictions of both internal and international movement and the closure of schools. While these attempts may have contributed to successfully slowing the spread of the virus, these restrictions also hit business operations extremely hard; Kyazanga Farmersâ€™ Cooperative Society was, unfortunately, no exception to these negative effects.
The cooperative experienced a slump in the prices of beans. A kilogram moved from 2,800 shillings (approximately 0.777 dollars) to as low as 1,500 shillings (approximately 0.416 dollars).
â€œWith these prices, farmers cannot get reasonable profits out of their produce even if they sold an acre of beans,â€ Paul the manager for Kyazanga Farmersâ€™ Cooperative Society explained.
The start of the lockdown precipitated restrictions in movements, which affected the delivery of fertilizers to the respective farmers. Farmers could also not collect fertilizers because they did not have the means to transport them to their plots. Training on fertilizer use and application was equally halted since public gatherings increase the risk of transmission.
However, the manager of Kyazanga Farmersâ€™ Cooperative Society indicated that the society works with serious and committed farmers and that the cooperative is always willing to support them by offering technical advice and inputs credit. Harvest from the cooperative members in season 2020B was 80MT compared to 2020A which was 61MT of beans. Despite the effects of COVID-19 being at a peak, more yields were still realized in season 2020B.
AFAP has facilitated important links between reputable fertilizer supply companies like Grainpulse and Yara East Africa and Kyazanga. These connections have encouraged some of these fertilizer companies, among which Grainpulse is included, to extend credit to members of the cooperative. Kyazanga was also lucky to receive part of a COVID-19 package in the form of fertilizers from Yara International, which AFAP took the lead in distributing to its partners. A total of 280 smallholder farmers benefited from the Yara COVID-19 response, which took the form of 100kg of good-quality cereal fertilizer per farmer. This assisted in balancing the farmersâ€™ cash flows in a season of great hardship and struggle. These connections and concomitant subsidized input prices have allowed the Kyazanga Farmersâ€™ Cooperative Society to greatly contribute to increasing farmersâ€™ profitability.
With initiatives like these and also support from AFAP, Kyazanga has been able to provide part-time jobs to some of its members. This year since January 2021, Kyazanga has employed the largest number of women and youth to date, averaging 15 people per day to sort beans. For each sorted bag, 13,000 Ugandan shillings is paid out (approximately 3.6 dollars). Those who are able to work quickly can usually sort a bag a day especially if they are sorting NARO Bean 1, which tends to be cleaner that the other varieties. Kyazanga also decided to provide lunch for the women and youth during the day since they stay at work from nine in the morning to six in the evening. During the closure of schools, some children are accompanied by their parents who help them to generate some income for the family by sorting beans with them.
Stella Namwanje is one of the women employed at Kyazanga Farmersâ€™ Cooperative Society. She was once employed as a tailor mending clothes for as low as 1,000 shillings (approximately 0.2 dollars) per item. When her husband left her, she found that the money she earned wasnâ€™t enough to provide for her and her child.
â€œWith the 7,000 Ugandan shillings (approximately 1.94 dollars) I earn daily I am able to save up. This is especially true since Kyazanga also provides us with lunch,â€ Stella explained.
This lunch also lessens her worry of her child not eating due to lack of money or low pay.
Stella Namwaje isnâ€™t the only one who has greatly benefited from Kyazanga Farmerâ€™s Cooperative Society and its support from AFAP. Other youths and women have offered the following:
â€œI will use my money to buy books when the schools open,â€ said one of the youths.
â€œThis is better than my restaurant where I used to cook food. I do not spend money these days. I always made a loss until my friend told me to come here. I save 10,000 Ugandan shillings per day (approximately 2.7 dollars) because I even have lunch here with my children,â€ commented Grace Nalugoti, one of the women.
â€œWhen I sort beans with my children, we are generating some income for the family. I can also monitor my children as leaving them at home alone is a risk. They can be exposed to many community temptations like fighting, drinking and teenage pregnancy,â€ Grace added.
Though the pandemic has posed some serious challenges for the food system in the short term, it has nonetheless also demonstrated that agriculture is at the center of life in Uganda. Farmers and women especially are key players on the food-supply stage.