ON THE GROUNDS SURROUNDING A ONE-STORY WAREHOUSE in the Rakai district of Uganda, dozens of women pore carefully over piles of beans spread over plastic sheets, intently sorting out any defects. There is a festive, family picnic kind of atmosphere, as children play alongside their working mothers.
These women are part of a bean supply chain that is increasing the incomes of farmers in this region of central Uganda. They are employed by the Community Enterprises Development Organization, more commonly known by its acronym of CEDO, a Lutheran World Relief partner that is a success story in how it is helping to lift its farmer members out of poverty.
“We have managed to take beans to the next level,” said Charles Katabalwa, CEDO program officer. “People know we have quality, so they come to us.”
CEDO is a farmer-owned organization that helps members to produce a successful crop. It provides them with micronutrientenriched seeds and then helps them get the best possible price from buyers. The idea is to improve nutrition among the farmers and their families, whether they are eating the nutrient-enriched beans themselves or are selling them as a cash crop.
The ultimate goal is to transform farmers from consumers to entrepreneurs. CEDO is supported by LWR’s Sustainable Enterprises for Trade Engagement (SENTE) project, which encourages farmers to move beyond subsistence agriculture to growing crops for cash. Farmers are trained to keep records so they can track expenditures and sales, keeping them on a profitable track.
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In addition to focusing on bean production with CEDO, the SENTE project, which translates to “money” in the local language, also works with two other cooperatives specializing in coffee and maize, since most farmers in the region grow all three crops.
“We encourage them to approach farming as a business, to keep track of how much they’re spending and how much they’re getting in return, for a farmer to know, ‘I have put in this much and this is what I’ve gotten out of it,’” says Georgina Nakubulwa, the SENTE project coordinator.
The secret weapon in this strategy’s success is the network of specially trained farmers who in turn advise their farmer neighbors. These resident extension workers, known as village enterprise agents, teach their fellow farmers about plant diseases and agricultural techniques relayed via a smartphone application. They also record data that helps LWR assess the progress of the SENTE project and monitor crop condition.
Rovince Kiggundu is a village enterprise agent who works with 215 farmers organized in five farmer groups. She spends part of her week conducting field visits to advise and evaluate these members. She reports that the most recent season yielded a bumper bean crop. One of the groups she advises planted 50 kilograms of bean seed and harvested a robust 1,500 kilograms, which they sold to CEDO. The farmer group members were so happy with the proceeds that they chipped in and bought Rovince a present, a traditional Ugandan dress called a gomesi, to show their gratitude.
Rovince says the efforts by CEDO and the SENTE project have changed the way these farmers view their livelihood. Many have expanded beyond planting the basic crops, and are beginning to build herds of livestock for more diversified income.
“Most of these farmers were producing for consumption,” she says. “Now they invest for the purpose of getting a profit. Farming has become their business.”