Female farmers in Uganda are working their way out of poverty by starting women’s cooperatives with support from Fokus and the Kavli Trust, and hope to start exporting within four years.
Text: Oda Gilleberg/Fokus
This project is one of two which currently features in a campaign being run by the dairy arm of Norway’s Kavli food group. Fokus is a Norwegian organisation for women and development issues.
The Marissa Beverages juice cooperative has swollen from two to no less than 24 members in one year, and production has tripled.
This is one of the collectives being provided with training through the collaboration established by Fokus and the trust with three local women’s organisations in the east African country.
“We’ve learnt what we have to do to meet government quality requirements for export products,” explains Rita Nabimuli Musoke, one of the Marissa Beverages members.
She has been on a course with the Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (Eassi), which seeks to win access for cooperatives to regional markets.
Eassi is one of three organisations working closely with 26 women’s groups in the Luwero district, 75 kilometres north of Kampala, the Ugandan capital.
By forming cooperatives, these groups benefit from collective production and marketing along the lines exemplified by Marissa Beverages.
The collaborating organisations also provide courses on improving production, further processing, taking the necessary account of the environment and marketing products.
These programmes are designed to strengthen income opportunities for female peasant farmers and boost their economic independence.
Eassi established a resource centre in September 2015 to provide businesswomen with information and advice on exporting their products.
A marketing day was staged in connection with the official opening, which was documented on film. This proved such a success that it will be a permanent annual event.
The two other organisations receiving support from Fokus are the National Association of Women’s Organisations in Uganda (Nawou) and the Uganda Association of Female Lawyers (Fida).
While the first of these umbrella bodies provides expertise enhancement and organisation for women’s groups in rural areas, the other offers legal training and services related to land ownership, inheritance and other economic rights for women.
An analysis of Luwero district in 2012 showed that females accounted for 75 per cent of its agricultural labour force. That compares with an estimate from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) that men own 92 per cent of Uganda’s farmland.
This means that women seldom own the land they work, even though they theoretically have the same rights as men to property and inheritance.
Fida holds information meetings on gender equality and female legal rights in Luwero’s villages as well as providing individual advice. These sessions are well attended and help to raise women’s awareness of their rights.
“Men also regularly attend the meetings, and we see that they eventually take a more active role in promoting women’s rights in Luwero,” reports Fida leader Irene Ovonji.
Peasant farmers account for the majority of poor people in Uganda, and women are the worst off among them. Discrimination and lack of information are their main barriers to acquiring land.
Lower levels of education also mean that they know less than men about such subjects as export opportunities to neighbouring countries.
According to Unesco, 35 per cent of adult Ugandan females lack basic reading and writing skills. They are often unaware of the opportunities and rights available to them.
That in turn forms a barrier for cooperatives which want to export, and Nawou accordingly provides adult literacy courses for the members of such groups.
Before becoming a teacher, Nanono Alice was herself a student in Nawou’s adult education programme and believes that literacy has a value over and above the purely theoretical.
“I see that many women become more self-confident and play a bigger role in the cooperatives,” she says. “That’s positive for the groups, which are better able to take democratic decisions.”
A number of studies by the World Bank and the UN have shown that strengthening the economic position of women yields a big social return.
According to the Global Gender Gap report (2009), 90 per cent of women’s earnings are ploughed back into the family compared with only 30-40 per cent of male incomes.
Enhancing the financial position of female farmers will improve the security of food supplies and reduce poverty for each family as well as for society as a whole.
Gender equality is a precondition for alleviating poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Africa Human Development Report for 2016 from the UN Development Programme (UNDP).