Masaka Cooperative Union sets up credit arm to support members

In December 2019, Masaka Co-operative Union formed a financial cooperative to boost coffee production capacity in the region.

For the last 70 years, Masaka Co-op union has worked with primary societies involved in coffee production in the greater Masaka region that comprises the districts of Lyantonde, Ssembabule, Bukomansimbi, Rakai, Lwengo, Kalungu and Kyotera.

According to Emmanuel Ssenyonga, the General Manager, the union was started in 1951 to combat oppression of indigenous business people involved in the coffee sector by Indians who dominated trade in the lucrative crop.

“The Union was a hedge against the bad practices of buyers. Indians owned the factories at the time, and because Africans knew nothing, our farmers’ coffee was under weighed and they were paid less than their due,” says Ssenyonga.

In the 1980s, Masaka Union started to supply the export market directly and was thus able to provide farmers a better bargain on their coffee and even give them premium pay.

However, Masaka Co-op Union was, like other unions in the country, hard hit by the wars that rocked the country between 1979-85.

Joseph Kavuma, the Union Chairperson says the Masaka Cooperative Union has struggled to recover ever since.

“All union operations were halted. We even retrenched most of our employees and only remained with a skeleton staff of four people because business was no longer running,” Kavuma says.

In addition, the Union was forced to sell most of its enterprises including ranches and coffee factories to clear the outstanding debts.

Worse still, the Union remained without working capital to resume its normal coffee business.

Restoring through a SACCO

It is against this background that the union decided to set up the Masaka Union Co-operative Financial Services Limited (MUCOFI). Launched on December 8, 2019, the financial cooperative will contribute to the Union’s grand goal of reviving and boosting coffee production in the region.

The Union’s Chairperson hopes that, by providing farmers with affordable credit, MUCOFI will deliver them from the clutches of predatory lenders and enable them get a better price for their coffee.

“Our farmers got tired with private buyers because whenever they had a problem, they would sell their coffee during flowering stage. So we set up a financial Centre where farmers could get ‘coffee loans’ a lower interest rate of about 1.5% per month instead of being cheated by private buyers,” Kavuma explained

According to Bukenya Swaleh, MUCOFI’s accountant, the relatively new SACCO already has 456 members, with a turnover of Shs 1.1bn.

“Our capital base is about Shs 1bn and our loan portfolio stands at Shs 654 million,” said Swaleh

The SACCO has total savings of Shs 83m and members’ share capital stands at around Shs 40m.

However General Manager Ssenyonga says the union is slowly getting back to its feet by using the Shs 17.8bn partial compensation the Union received from government to resume coffee buying and export.

“We hope to facilitate more members and build stronger societies. This means more production and increased exports as a result. This is where we are heading to,” says Ssenyonga.

The Union has also embraced value addition and has started producing roasted coffee for local consumption.

“Right now, we have pilot experiments going on. Over the next five years we expect to introduce roasted coffee beans onto the local market so that we can start consuming our own coffee,” he said.

He called upon government to utilize unions and other cooperatives in providing quality inputs to farmers.

“In the early 1990s, the government used to acquire agricultural inputs through Coffee Marketing Boards and send those inputs to the unions in the districts, which would then dispatch them equitably to the farmers,” Ssenyonga recalls.

This system, he believes, gave government a better estimate of the appropriate inputs required by the farmers.

“This is unlike today where farmers’ inputs decisions are taken either by the NAADS Secretariat or Operation Wealth Creation officials (OWC), which results in wrong input and season timings, and poor quality deliveries.”

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MUK don urges government to quickly resolve MUBS staff salary disparity

Dr. Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi, the Chairperson of the Forum for Academic Staff in Public Universities (FASPU) called on government to resolve the outstanding issue of salary disparity for academic staff at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and align it with the salary scale for existing Public Universities.

In an interview with theCooperator, the FASPU leader revealed that the issue at MUBS is that different categories of staff earn different salaries based on different appointment terms, a practice he says does not cohere with the rules governing staff remuneration in public universities.

“We stand with MUBS staff and the Government must urgently address this matter, beyond which we shall not hesitate as public universities to lay down tools in solidarity with MUBS,” Kamunyu said.

On November 15, 2020, Makerere University Business School Academic Staff Association (MUBASA) committed to an indefinite industrial action by the teaching staff, citing inconsistency in their current salaries with the Government wage bill structure for other public universities.

“The issue is underpayment. As academic staff we expected our salaries to match what the Government gives to staff in other Universities,” said Brian Muyomba, the Chairperson, MUBASA.

He vowed that MUBS’s academic staff will not relent until their expectations are met by the Government.

Varied wage categories

Currently, six wage categories exist for different staff on the MUBS payroll.

620 out of 1,187 staff members were appointed by the MUBS University Council and are under the ministry of Public service salary structure, with a 38.7 bn wage bill per year.

Moreover, 80 staff members under the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPS) are still earning salary at their previous rank, despite having been promoted. The annual wage bill for this category is 6.5 bn.

The third category includes staff appointed by the Universities Council on permanent terms. 97 in number, they are paid by the University (not Government) with a wage bill of over 3.5 bn annually.

Staff who are paid by MUBS on appointment by the University Council on local contract terms are 46, while those appointed by the University Management under a similar arrangement number 299, with a wage bill of 1.3 bn and 7.7 bn per annum respectively.

The last category consists of 45 Administrative Assistants appointed by MUBS, with a wage bill of over Shs 864m per year.

In a letter dated September 1, 2020, Minister Muruli Mukasa recommended that the Government takes over the wage bill for 843 MUBS staff to match the pay scale for public Universities. He proposed that the government covers a wage deficit of over 4.92 bn that would enable the University meet its wage bill of 58.711 bn required for 2020/21.

“Considering that wage for only 843 staff has been observed to result in extremely low staffing levels of below 30%, the ministry therefore advises the management of MUBS to capture its staffing needs and submit in the recruitment plans for FY 2020/21. Once funds are provided, then these positions should be filled completely,” Muruli said.

Meanwhile, said the MUBS administration partly bears the blame for the current stalemate at the university.

“If there had been progress, maybe lecturers wouldn’t have threatened. This is an injustice that a normal management would appreciate and have it sorted. Much as the Government has resolved to have this ironed out, there are delays on the side of MUBS management,” Kamunyu said.

“We ask MUBS to cooperate with the Government such that this problem can be dealt with before we are all drawn into this course of action,” he added.

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Masaka Cooperative Union gears up to resume coffee export

The Masaka Farmers’ Cooperative Union is undertaking comprehensive restructuring aimed at resuscitating its coffee export potential.

Registered in 1951, the union was established to strengthen coffee farming and marketing in the greater Masaka sub region. In the 1980s it suffered immense losses as result of the political unrest that befell the country, losses for which the union is currently awaiting full compensation from the government.

TheCooperator has established that in the first two quarters on this financial year, government disbursed Shs 6.3 bn to Masaka Cooperative Union as part payment of the Shs 17.4 bn owed it.

The cash injection comes as a boon for the Union which is working towards reviving its glory in the coffee export business.

Emmanuel Ssenyonga, the Union’s General Manager says their aim is to resume and sustain the union’s coffee export business before this year ends.

The compensation monies received so far are being utilized to reestablish the Union’s strength and explore their business plans, according to Ssenyonga.

“We had earlier undertaken efforts to revive the unions by remobilizing our primary societies to boost their production capacities. When the government finally released part of the money, it came as complement to the efforts and plans we had started rolling out,” he noted.

In the meantime, the Union has stocked at least 13 tons of processed coffee which, Ssenyonga says, is lays a strong foundation for their coffee exports.

To this end, he adds, the Union has already ordered for modern coffee processing and grading machinery from Germany, to be installed in the union’s new factory structure currently under construction at Kijjabwemi zone at the outskirts of Masaka Municipality.

Lawrence Majwala, the Union’s Secretary says that the hi-tech machinery they acquired will facilitate production of high quality coffee and enable them meet international standards.

“We have so far paid 70 percent of the 1.4 billion shillings for the batch of the machinery which is already being shipped. In addition to this, there is another section of the dryer and a colour-sorter that will also be brought in to have a complete factory here,” Majwala said.

Before its disintegration in the mid 1980s, Masaka Coffee Cooperative Union was among the country’s main coffee exporters, generating substantial incomes that contributed to the union’s expansion and asset growth.

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Napak farmers reap big from cassava growing

Former cattle rustlers-turned crop farmers in Napak district are reaping big from cassava-growing in Karamoja, theCooperator has learned.

Cassava, a staple food for many communities in the rest of Uganda, was initially not a familiar crop in Karamoja, but was gradually adopted as a food crop as the traditionally pastoralist communities gradually began to lead settled lives.

John Lokut, one of the transformed farmers told theCooperator that many of his peers initially had very little knowledge about the crop, and only took to it after their cattle rustling expeditions were stopped by government.

“For sure we had no idea that cassava was being grown because those days when I was still a cattle(rustler), I could see cassava like it was a wild plant in the bush. I didn’t know that people grow it until one of my friends from Teso taught me on how to plant cassava stems, “he says.

Lokut has since emerged as one of the leading cassava growers in Napak, and recently teamed up with a host of other members to form a cooperative – Amedek cassava growers amongst whom they have jointly saved up shs.10million from selling cassava.

Joseph Mudong, the Chairman of the group told thecooperator that in 2018, he advised each member to grow at least one acre of cassava from which they jointly earned shs.4million. “That is when we saw that it (cassava growing) is profitable, and decided to invest the money in tilling more land,” he says.

He explained that with joint-farming proving profitable, they decided to form a formal group in 2009, which has since grown from 3 to now 20 members.

Grace Nachap, a member of the group and mother of eight told theCooperator that ever since she started Cassava growing two year ago, her family’ standard of living has improved. She said she can now pay fees for her three children in Moroto High School as well as for one waiting to join secondary when schools re-open. “I used to grow sorghum but it has never given me the money that I have got from Cassava growing,” She says.

Andrew Loucho, another member of the group says that market for cassava has also progressively grown and that now customers come to as far as their gardens to buy the cassava before it is even harvested. He said they pack three cassava tubers at shs. 3,000, and on daily basis receive between 10 to 40 customers from Moroto, Napak and Kotido wanting to buy cassava.

“What we are now pushing for is for government to give us at least one tractor. This would help us till much bigger land, and we would be supplying cassava to the whole of Karamoja region,” Loucho says.

Joseph Lomonyang, the district LCV chairperson called upon government to consider setting up irrigation projects in the area, noting that there’s increasingly vast farming potential in the area now that the communities have settled down.

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Ministry of Agriculture to construct post-harvest handling facilities in 57 Districts

Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries(MAAIF) has started on constructing storage facilities and rehabilitation of road chokes in farmer communities across the country.

The development was revealed by the State Minister for Animal Husbandry Bright Rwamirama while commissioning the first cluster of construction works for community post-harvest handling and rehabilitative works on farm access road choke points at Ruhaama area cooperative enterprise in Ntungamo district.

The 57-district Agriculture Cluster Development Project(ACDP) is being funded by the World Bank to the tune of $150 million. Rwamirama says that when the 57 pilot districts are done, the project will be extended to cover the rest of the country.

He told theCooperator that government is moving away from giving free inputs to farmers because it has proved unsustainable in the long run, and that focusing on post-harvest handling and market-enabling infrastructure will address critical challenges like storage, low level of value addition and poor access to markets due to bad road networks.

“We recognise that a competitive, profitable and sustainable agricultural sector can be achieved through various strategies, and the ACDP is one of them because it focuses on creating a link between the producer and the market,” he says.

The post-handling facilities are particularly targeting 5 of the traditional crops grown in most of Uganda, ie Beans, Cassava, Coffee, Maize and Rice, and Rwamirama hopes the facilities can motivate their increased production.

Min Rwamirama Commissioning the construction of a storage facility in Masha Sub County Isingiro District district on Friday.Photo by Joshua Nahamya.

He says the ACDP is particularly targeting organised farmer groups and cooperatives which aggregate farmer produce and carry out common marketing. In Western Uganda, project implementation has started in Isingiro and Ntungamo districts. In Ntungamo, the project is supporting four farmer cooperatives to the tune of shs. 940 Million.

The beneficiaries are; Kitembe Farmers Group, Ruhaama Area Cooperative Enterprise, Nyakyera Rukoni Area Co-operative Ltd and Kashate Gamba Nokora Group.

In Isingiro, 9 cooperatives have been identified and supported to the tune of shs.1.6billion. One of the storage facility in Masha sub county, Isingiro district is projected to store about 200 metric tonnes of produce, while the one in Ruhama sub county in Ntungamo is expected to store up to 300 metric tons.

Rwamirama urged farmers embrace farmer groups and cooperatives to be able to benefit from such government projects. “There are many more projects to come,” he said, adding, “By April, 2020, my ministry had signed grant agreements with 118 Farmer organizations from 24 of the 57 pilot districts and funds have been disbursed to most of these organizations.”

He urged the identified cooperatives to put the funds to good use, warning, “We(MAAIF) shall not tolerate any abuse of these funds by either the grant beneficiaries or the contractors of the works.”

Regarding transport infrastructure, the Minister noted that rehabilitation works on Road Chokes would soon begin in the districts of Isingiro, Amuru, Iganga, Nebbi, and Ntungamo. “Contracts worth shs.14.5 billion have been signed with respective contractors,” he said.

“I again caution you (contractors) to do quality work. Our technical teams from the ministry and the district should ensure that there is value for money in the works executed,” Rwamirama added.

Kababo Byabagyenyi, the Chairperson Rukuuba Farmers’ Cooperative Society thanked MAAIF for supporting Isingiro farmers with a post-harvest handling facility, noting that, “This facility will actually become a bulking centre, a storage facility and a marketing centre where the sorting, grading, cleaning and bagging will be best done.”

He assured MAAIF officials that his cooperative had already mobilized 20 farmer groups who will be trained in good agronomic practices for particularly beans, to be able to take advantage of the market across the border in in Tanzania.

Gertrude Nakacwa another farmer in Isingiro also welcomed the storage facility, noting that farmers would now be able to hold out for good prices for their produce, which would mean improved incomes. She however appealed to MAAIF to also think about pest-control interventions, noting that in addition to persistent droughts, pests were now one of the gravest threats to farming in Isingiro district.

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