Sunday, February 5, 2012

Kungulimera Area Co operative Alliance

After a great visit with the Kungulimera SACCO, we arranged a visit to the Kungulimera Area Cooperative Alliance (ACE). The ACE was created for one simple reason; to bring groups of farmers together to sell their crops at a better price, and introduce them to new markets. A cluster of farmers in an area get together in whats termed an RPO (Rural Producer Organization). The RPO's then become members of the ACE to form a larger group. In the Kungulimera ACE, there are approximately 28 RPO's which consists of over 1450 farmers. In the past, these individual farmers would not work in cooperation to sell their product in the trade centers and wherever they could yield sales. Larger organizations, serving as middlemen, bought much of the product from the farmers at deep discounts and then took it to market to make large profits. The farmers were on the losing end and at the mercy of the middleman. Today, the ACE works with the farmers to provide training, support, and most importantly, a market with a much higher price. Due to the larger volume that the ACE can now collect, they can market to Sudan, Kenya, and the Congo. The farmer gets money for his crop right away, alleviating the pain of waiting for the product to sell and the risk of loss due to potential spoilage. The ACE also borrows from the SACCO to pay the farmer, which is good business for the SACCO. In this triangle of commerce, it is a true demonstration of how cooperatives can work together for the good of a community.

The ACE we visited has high aspirations. They just started to do value added processing, which is the first evidence of this strategy that I witnessed. On a tour of their location, they showed us how they make pineapple juice and wine. Producing juice for local schools is just a bonus for the community. They actually increase the profit on a pineapple fourfold. A raw pineapple will yield at best 1,000 shillings, but it will produce enough juice to generate about 10,000 shillings. Take out the cost of production, and it is easy to see the benefits. They are working on increasing the market, however, this will also provide them options when they have difficulty selling raw pineapples with a limited shelf life: bottle the juice (which contains no preservatives, by the way) and store for market. I purchased a bottle of pineapple wine and am saving it for home - but I am confident it will be delicious.

They also showed us their sun-dried pineapple operation that they are trying out. They have large solar units outside their building where they place the cut pineapple to be dried by the sun. Obviously the sun is present quite often and makes for a simple drying process. The drying units are simply plastic houses to magnify the sun's power. The issue they are having now is the packaging company will not sell them the bags, but want to do the packing themselves and label it for market. The ACE is getting hit with a middleman themselves and they are looking for a solution. I sampled this pineapple and, all I can say is I would eat this everyday! I truly hope they can gain access to the bags themselves and start producing dry pineapple and other fruit. They have so much access to raw material, and this would put more money back into the hands of the farmers, the ACE's , and the SACCO's. Oh, and they also want to produce cough syrup using pineapple juice and aloe, but that is my next blog, lol.

A value added product
I will soon be heading home, but what a great lesson in farming, cooperatives and partnerships. I cannot help but think about the Codroy Valley and the opportunities that are available. I am challenging myself to play a role in stimulating farming in this area by offering leadership and identifying how our credit union can be a strategic partner. Let's face it, I'd much prefer potatoes or other produce from our local farms than from some far-off land. How can we convince people to support it? What products are they looking for? What would encourage farmers to sell to the cooperative and become members? What are the barriers to farming? Maybe once we get the answers to these questions we can call on our friends from Uganda to assist us.

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