It's no surprise that agriculture is the dominant supplier of work for the country's individuals: 72% of the country’s workforce is dedicated to agriculture, numbering more than 11 million farmers, millers, traders, and other stakeholders, each aware of the potential energy throbbing in the rich soils, each working to earn every last shilling the land will give.
But despite the economic potential, Uganda’s agriculture sector contributes only 28% to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This points to a significant disparity between the amount of work put into the agriculture sector and its economic output and indicates not only the low productivity level of the nation’s individual farmers but the agribusiness sector as a whole. Nearly one-third of these farmers are classified as impoverished – and a single poor cropping season could devastate a family’s livelihood. Unfortunately, there are many impediments to the achievement of household resilience, including limited market information, low access to finance, lack of appropriate farm inputs, and poor rural infrastructure.
By employing a market systems approach to development, REACH seeks to bolster local markets so that they will function more effectively, sustainably, and beneficially for poor farmers. Instead of approaching a solution to these issues that might simply provide inputs or services, REACH aims to develop linkages between low-income rice and potato farmers and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). These relationships benefit firms and farmers both, resulting in enhanced productivity and higher value addition.
10 Times More Rice
“We used to harvest two bags in an acre of land. Now we harvest 20!”
Azarikah Naikoba (left) is a member of the Idudi Rice Farmers Cooperative Society in Budaka district in Eastern Uganda. She, along with the other members, were trained in climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices such as applying fertilizers from the right source, at the right rate, at the right time, and at the right place; planting in lines; and water management.
Not only did she harvest more, but she was able to earn a higher price by aggregating her rice with the cooperative for collective bulking and marketing. Responsible Suppliers Industries (see story below) was linked to the cooperative by IFDC and can grade rice at no extra cost.
With the extra income, she has built a new house and sent one of her children to university.
After receiving a grant from a previous IFDC project to purchase automatic milling equipment, Responsible Suppliers, with assistance from REACH, has been linked to REACH farmer groups. Responsible purchases crops from these farmers at higher prices because of their ability to grade rice, through which they garner up to 35% value addition in Eastern Uganda. Because of these achievements, over the last four years Responsible Suppliers has grown in storage and processing capacity and has hired 12 new employees.
New Roads to Markets
In addition to supporting farmers in achieving resilience measures, REACH engages in “win-win” public-private partnerships (PPPs) focusing on improving food security. The project is partnering with several District Local Governments (DLGs) to develop better market infrastructure by rehabilitating 44 kilometers (km) of roads with three DLGs: Kween, Butaleja, and Kanungu.
In the Eastern regions, two projects are each benefiting more than 30,000 individuals.
At the Doho Rice Scheme in Butaleja, rehabilitation of 10 kilometers of roads has increased farmers' access to markets and social amenities. This enables farmers to access affordable transportation of crops, as well as the ability to easily aggregate crops at the end of each season to sell in bulk.
Project partners such as Kyadongho Hwegate Farmers’ Group, which received FaaB and GAPs training from REACH, can participate profitably in markets. According to Duse Asuman, the group’s secretary, farmers now feel empowered to set higher prices for their rice harvests. While farmers can now transport their crops at a better price, their families and communities will also have better access to healthcare and education, creating a win-win for the whole of Butaleja.
In Kween, the second of the eastern district road projects, transportation tends to be perilous, as the roads winding up Mt. Elgon can be either rocky or, in the rainy season, extremely muddy to the point of being impassible. Rehabilitation of 26 km of roads includes leveling of the rocky sections and the installation of culverts to allow for rainwater to flow.
In the southwestern region of Uganda, the roads around Kanungu are heavily worn by timber trucks and heavy rains. Switchbacks up the mountain would easily wash away. Farmers may be employing GAPs, but their harvests were not economically beneficial.
“We were selling potatoes as if we were selling dead cows: at a giveaway price,” recalls Dinavence Kobusingye, chairperson of the Mugarika Bakyala Twimyuke Women's Group. But now, in partnership with the Kanungu District Local Government, the rehabilitation of 8 km of roads brings new hope for these communities. “Now we can bargain for higher prices [for our potatoes],” says Kobusingye. The group benefits not only from better sale prices but access to affordable household items that come from outside the village, growth in timber business, specialized healthcare services, and education options for their children.
It is anticipated that the road rehabilitation activities will benefit a minimum of 76,988 persons in the road catchment area (32,895 in Butaleja, 30,515 in Kween, and 13,578 in Kanungu).
It Starts with Seed
Quality potatoes begin with tissue culture plantlets, a technology that allows for the development of high-quality potato seed. The plantlets are supplied by the Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research Development Institute (KAZARDI) under the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) to screen house owners, such as Charles Byarugaba (right), who then produce minitubers and sell the high-yielding, disease-free product to farmers.
Byarugaba, a highly successful screen house owner, harvests upwards of 50 tons of seed potato per season. While the high-quality product is beneficial for farmers, Byarugaba has increased his income enough, through producing minitubers and managing his own farm, to build a new house.
Her yields, along with those of other members of the cooperative society, have increased from 500 kg/acre to an average of 2300 kg/acre, garnering rice prices 28% higher than before. With the extra income, Evelyn not only was able to build a new solar-powered house, but she bought several cows as a means of diversifying her income.
In fact, she’s not the only one: 99% of REACH farmers have diversified their income streams. For example, many barley farmers in Kapchorwa district in Eastern Uganda, who are already selling their harvests to Uganda Breweries Ltd., have been trained in intercropping potato with their barley.
Gender sensitization is more than a buzzword. More than 20,000 individuals have been trained in joint decision making through the REACH project. In Uganda, training on joint decision-making – that is, the meaningful involvement of women and youth in household and group decision making – is changing lives. Families are now working as a unit to cast and achieve a vision.
Equality Equals Earnings
Tumuhimbise Gertrude, treasurer of the Nyabyondo United Women’s group, and her husband grow potatoes and passion fruits in Southwestern Uganda. Before receiving training from IFDC, her family was unable to afford even basic household necessities, but after receiving gender sensitization training, she and her husband work together and are now “becoming rich.” Whether buying land or making marketing plans, they do so as a unit. Their teamwork increased their income, improved their household, and allowed them to send their five children to good schools.
The Bukimbiri Potato Growers and Marketing Cooperative Society in Kisoro District in Southwestern Uganda has been undergoing financial literacy training to enable the group to wisely use their newfound earnings. In cooperation with local partners, REACH trained the farmer group on managing their incomes, making sure to budget for school fees, tuition, medical costs, and other day-to-day expenses. The group has established a VSLA, that collects from and lends to cooperative members. In the beginning, savings started small at 150,000 UGX (about US $40), but now the group is saving more than 7,000,000 UGX (about US $1,900).
The practice of saving and lending among the group has produced benefits such as members’ children attending university, helping community members in hard times, and helping entrepreneurial-minded individuals start up new businesses. Additionally, the VSLA has also served as a launching point to help the farmer group have collateral to access loans through other financial institutions.
The group has a vision for its members to each own a house and have electricity, own 20 goats (for diversified income), and be able to send all their children to university, among other goals.