Appreciating that without specific attention to gender inclusiveness, important segments of society are excluded especially women and youth, from the benefits of access to land and other productive resources, ACFODE with financial support from We Effect rolled out a five-year project titled “Enhancing Gender Equality in member-based organisations through Policy Advocacy.” The project aims to enhance capacities of We Effect partners in Uganda to deliver gender responsive services and products to their members (women, men and young people) through capacity building, policy review, learning reflections and peer support, male engagement, strategic engagements and media campaigns.
As part of her initial activities into the project, ACFODE held a one-day inception meeting and one-day capacity assessment for two of the partners namely; Mt. Rwenzori Coffee Cooperative and Semuliki Cooperative union in Kasese and Bundibugyo districts respectively. The objectives of the inception meeting were; to officially introduce the project to We Effect partners, agree on the roles and working modalities between ACFODE and other partner organizations and to discuss and harmonize activity work plans for 2018. The meetings took place from 21st to 25th May 2018 and were attended by a total of 81 participants (23 females and 58 males).
Ms Regina Bafaki, the Executive Director ACFODE, makes a presentation during the inception meeting at Mt Rwenzori Coffee Cooperative in Kasese.
Our journey started on 20th May 2018 as we headed to the new districts of operation, Kasese and Bundibugyo. It was an interesting experience especially with a little nine-month old baby on board who did not take her eyes off what seemed to look like ‘moving trees and buildings’. Kasese is 371.2km (about 6 hours and 30 minutes) while Bundibugyo is 379.6km away from Kampala. Unlike the rough road between Kyenjojo and Kasese, Bundibugyo was a sail through and with a beautiful view of the hills and winding road.
Kasese is one of the leading coffee growing areas in Uganda while Bundibugyo is the leading cocoa growing/ exporting area in the country. While in Kasese we interacted with Mt. Rwenzori Coffee Cooperative which was formed in 2013 to improve the livelihoods of coffee farmers through enabling them to produce the best quality coffee and access gainful markets. Mt Rwenzori Coffee Cooperative’s coverage includes Kasese, Kabarole, Bundibugyo, Kamwenge, Ntoroko and Rubirizi districts. They have 20 registered primary cooperatives comprised of 2948 individual coffee farmers (1688 male and 1260 female). According to Mr. Kule Jovenal, the General Manager of Mt. Rwenzori Coffee Cooperative, 7 in 10 people in Kasese have accumulated wealth through coffee production.
In Bundibugyo, we interacted with Semuliki Cooperative Union (SEMUCU). Semuliki Cooperative Union offers services such as market information, financial services through Semuliki SACCO, financial literacy training, farm inputs and livelihood programme. They also have Semuliki Youth Enterprise Association which deals in wine making. They have a membership of 15 primary cooperatives. SEMUCU is also a well-established cooperative that is housed in their own building, owns 5 acres of land and two storage facilities.
Members of answer the capacity assesment questions during the Mt Rwenzori Coffee Cooperative inception meeting in Kasese.
Like so many areas in Uganda, Kasese and Bundibugyo are places where negative cultural norms and practices are still rampant for example; a few women and youth in Kasese are involved in coffee production and have control over marketing. There is also lack of joint decision making and planning especially in the rural areas of the district. In Bundibugyo, women engage in small business such as selling fish, African cloth (bitenge), selling cocoa in small portions such as cups and making local brew known as ‘vee’. Men are the owners of cocoa gardens. Women have no control over land and the final products. It’s believed that women should not take part in marketing because they do not usually account for the money spent.
Food insecurity is a major problem in Bundibugyo. On our way to the district, we noticed scanty banana plantations and a few maize gardens. Our curiosity led us to inquire from the locals who informed us that most of the food items are purchased from the next bigger town of Fort Portal. Most of the population is involved in cocoa growing and cocoa business is usually at peak between September and October every year.
Despite the benefits in the two cash crops, coffee and cocoa, the farmers/ cooperatives still face a number of challenges including; poor quality coffee due to poor agronomic practices, poor methods of coffee processing, deliberate alteration of coffee by middle men for example adding cement, beans or stones to increase the volume of coffee. There is a lot of competition from middle men who reach farmers at the grass root directly. High taxes imposed on the cooperatives was also an emerging issue raised by both unions.
Our assessment revealed that majority of the women in the membership of the two cooperatives have access but limited control and ownership of land. For example, only 25% of women in the membership of Mt. Rwenzori Coffee Cooperative have control over land compared to 75% of men. In the same cooperative, only 3% of women own land compared to 90% of men. Moving forward, ACFODE will use various approaches in this five-year project to ensure that gender is mainstreamed in the governance, leadership, operations, services and products offered by the We Effect partners. ACFODE will also support advocacy campaigns for issues concerning the different cooperatives including reviving the cooperative bank, reviewing the taxation policy and allocation of land to cooperatives.
By Rukundo Rebecca