Linking Ugandan farmers to the organic and fair trade markets
Everyone who has visited Uganda agrees that its fruit and vegetables are delicious and of superior quality. However, the farmers who grow them barely make enough money to provide for their families. For this reason, the Trade for Development Centre partnered with NOGAMU, the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda, to ensure that farmers can sell their entire harvest at a fair price and grow their businesses sustainably.
Getting organised first
NOGAMU is an umbrella organisation which unites producers, processors, exporters, NGOs and other institutions and organisations that are involved in the promotion and development of the organic sector in Uganda. Established in 2001, it is now one of the biggest business support organisations (BSOs) providing a range of services to the sector. The NOGAMU project, developed with the support of the Trade for Development Centre between October 2010 and September 2015, was aimed at establishing income-generating streams for these individual smallholder farmers. To achieve this, NOGAMU is convinced that the first step for farmers is to organise themselves into groups or structures to become more empowered. “Ugandan farmers grow their crops all alone in their family gardens and do not work together as neighbours, so we try to change their thinking,” explains Musa Muwanga, the Chief Executive Officer at NOGAMU. After numerous field visits and village meetings, NOGAMU was able to track different farmers and explain the benefits of forming a structure or a cooperative with others who grow the same crops.
Farmers standing strong together
It did not take long to convince farmers of the benefits of working together. Their biggest motivation to join a cooperative was indeed the security that they would sell their entire harvest and receive a better price (around 30% to 100% higher according to NOGAMU). However, this requires large quantities of produce. That is why, through information sessions, NOGAMU explained to the farmers that adding up small quantities is necessary to do business with bigger buyers. Nonetheless, the limited know-how and lack of resources for pre-financing the harvest were the major inhibiting factors. To deal with these issues, NOGAMU proposed a follow-up project with the TDC. The aim was to train the same groups in management and logistical planning, to allow them to find solutions so more farmers can join. For instance, three stronger cooperatives/farmer groups received business skills governance and price negotiation training, allowing them to conduct negotiations on their own. A new cooperative always receives business management skills training first and must elect a leader. This was easier for some groups than for others because many farmers do not trust or simply do not like ‘that one annoying neighbour’ but NOGAMU guided them through the election process and setting up a monitoring structure to prevent corruption.
Farmers invest in the future by producing sustainably
Another goal of the project was to launch organic farming. NOGAMU helped the farmers to establish an organic quality management system to obtain organic certification. This turned out to be a challenge. “This is where we experienced some difficulties that slowed our project down,” admits Muwanga. Indeed, the organic and Fairtrade certification requirements are not very relevant to African culture. For example, it was difficult for farmers to use formal documentation and to keep records of the growing process of their crops as they are not office people. Luckily, Muwanga said that overall, they did notice the farmers’ willingness and understanding of becoming certified, whether it was organic or fairtrade. “Climate change is very noticeable in Uganda, especially in the dry north,” Muwanga adds. “The farmers were grateful to learn how to conserve water as they realised that it makes them perform better and produce a better harvest.”
NOGAMU at the forefront of this big project
After getting organised and producing a quality organic or Fairtrade harvest, the final step for the cooperatives is to sell at a good price. This is NOGAMU’s strength: “We know where the markets are, as we have links with both farmers and markets. We organise farmers into groups, develop their capacity and link them to the buyers that we know,” says Muwanga. Still, even for NOGAMU, it is tough to find markets, which may range from ‘village organic stores’ to local markets, supermarkets and schools. A lot of work remains to be done so that is why the TDC approved the three-year project in 2010 to support three farmers’ associations in three regions of northern and eastern Uganda in the transition to organic agriculture, with the certification process and with establishing relations with wholesalers. On top of that, although the farmers are part of a cooperative, many of them still prefer to work as individuals, especially when it comes to marketing. Some farmers do not inform the group and sell some produce individually, breaching the agreement they have to sell as a group. Underlining the importance of the benefits of Fairtrade and organic produce is therefore far from over.
However, the project was an overall success. More than 8,700 farmers joined a cooperative and 100 internal inspectors were trained in European, Asian and American organic farming regulations. The target of 30% female leaders of cooperatives was also set. As many of the cooperatives mainly comprise women (sesame growers are all women), 70% of the leaders are female! And finally, 3 large cooperatives were trained in implementing organic and fair trade quality management systems and were linked to one local trading company and 3 exporting companies.
For Mrs Olivia Kayongo, the benefits of being a member of a cooperative became clear within the first months of her membership: “I can earn over USD 150 every two weeks for organic mixed vegetable products branded sales from my supplies to speciality supermarkets and home deliveries. It has made a big difference for my family, my children can now go to school,” she says.
Project (1): Date: From 01/10/2010 to 01/09/2013 0Duration: 36 month(s) Budget: €111,959
Project (2): Date: From 01/10/2014 to 30/09/2015 Duration: 12 month(s) Budget: €70,002
Complete project: Date: From 01/10/14 to 30/09/15 Duration: 48-month(s) Budget: €181,961