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How Increased Commercialization has Increased Smallholder Farms Income

Okoboi Farmers’ Cooperative Society Limited is a registered farmer business organization located in Okoboi village, Okoboi parish, Kapelebyong sub-county, Kapelebyong district. It started in 2017 as a farmer association called Okobo Modern Farmers’ Association with a total of 30 members that operates in three parishes of Koboi and Akuluonyoo and Aturai respectively. 

The main crops seasonally produced and traded are soybean, green gram, rice, sunflower and cassava. With a membership of 137 members (male = 89 and female = 48), majority of the members were trading individually, and the cooperative was only able to collectively market 56.1 MT of produce per season with poor quality at buyer-dictated prices. Most of the produce was sold to middlemen in Kapelebyong and Soroti Districts, that cheated farmers in pricing and weight measurements. This was mainly because of a lack of trust amidst members and incentive to work collectively. Some of the constraints included lack of linkages to structured and better input and output markets, inconsistent quality of produce due to poor postharvest handling techniques like threshing which is quite labour intensive was left to women and used of sticks to beat the grain out of pods, poor collective storage facility, poor record keeping, and conflicts within the cooperative due to the poor governance structure and lack of trust in the leadership. Also, individual members planted local seed varieties (locally saved seeds) while a few moved over 40km to Amuria town council at times Soroti city to access improved inputs, which often delayed them from planting in time and this significantly affected their production volumes.

In 2020, Okoboi Farmers’ Cooperative Society Limited enrolled into the Développement Initiative for Northern Uganda (DINU) as beneficiaries of “Building Resilience to Enhance Food and Nutrition Security, Incomes and Health in Northern Uganda (BRENU)” Project. The project focused on bridging the gaps and addressing the constraints faced by the cooperative, through; (i) training the members in farming as a business and contract negotiation, (ii) strengthening cooperative leadership, (iii) establishing a formal business agreement with big buyers (Lira Resort Enterprises Ltd) to provide a reliable market for their grains, (iv) providing improved postharvest technologies to improve quality of produce like 1MT/hectare motorized rice thresher, automated grain cleaner, (v) rehabilitation and equipping their collective storage facility to food-grade level with pallets, a moisture meter and digital weighing scale.

Because of the assured market, the requirement of bulk volume by the buyer and availability of a good store, farmers became more interested in collective marketing. By the first season of 2022, the quality of produce had significantly improved, and the volumes collectively traded had tripled to 164 MTs (Ugx 216,000,000) seasonally. Farmers production has also increased because of the linkage to Acila Enterprise Limited in Soroti City, from where the cooperative collectively procured 460 kgs of improved soybean and super rice seeds in the first season of year 2022. Furthermore, the adoption of the improved rice thresher has reduced the cost of threshing paddy from 400 Ugx/kg initially to Ugx 250 per kg currently.

As a cooperative, we have seen improvement in the livelihoods of our members, with some constructing permanent and semi-permanent houses, ease in payment of school fees, and catering for medical services among others. Above all, because of the DINU – BRENU interventions in our cooperative, our membership has increased from 30 in 2020 to 137 in year 2022, all are active members. Our plan as a cooperative is to produce and market at least 3,500MTs of produce every season, expand our area of operation to all parishes in Kapelebyong sub county and Kapelebyong district to trade in bigger domestic and export markets, said Mr. Olum Francis, aged 63 years old (Chairperson – Okoboi farmers’ cooperative society).

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