A Women’s Cooperative Finds Success and Strength in Numbers

The women of Kamushoko Cooperative in Uganda are banding together to turn their millet cooperative into a profit-making agribusiness. Photo Credit: Julia Tanton

The women of Kamushoko Cooperative in Uganda are banding together to turn their millet cooperative into a profit-making agribusiness. Photo Credit: Julia Tanton

The women of Kamushoko Cooperative in Uganda know that self-reliance isn’t always a matter of going it alone. They attribute their recent economic and production successes to their strength in numbers.

 

At one time—before they were members of the Kamushoko Cooperative—the women farmed, harvested and sold their produce, such as millet and plantains, individually. On their own, they lacked bargaining power and faced limited marketing outlets.  They also had inadequate storage facilities for their crops, and that meant they had to sell their harvested produce immediately—at peak season, when prices were low and profits were meager.

 

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), these women are now banding together, bargaining collectively and turning their produce cooperative into a profit-making agribusiness that is boosting sales, family income and food security in their community.

 

Joan Mukongo has led the cooperative since 2013, when it was first funded with a $88,500 operational assistance grant to improve management and financial systems. Joan convinced women farmers to store their crops, sell in bulk at low season and shop around for buyers. This paid off: the farmers began to speak with one voice and to sell their products together, increasing their sales revenue by over 60 percent in the very first year. By 2015, when the first grant ended, Kamushoko Cooperative had doubled its sales revenue from millet and plantains and increased its membership, from 67 to nearly 100 members, almost all of which are women.

 

USADF has helped our cooperative to grow. We now know how to use a bank account, sign checks and pay our farmers. We have even gone on the radio. We talk and the whole country listens to the village women of Kamushoko. Can you imagine?

By working and bargaining together, members of the cooperative are achieving successes that would have been hard, if not impossible, to achieve on their own. They are expanding their market beyond the regular vendor in town. They are now able to invest their profits in a facility to store their grain, which allows them to sell at a time of optimal profitability. By reinvesting the profits back into the cooperative, the women are setting good examples, and becoming community leaders and powerful agents for change.

 

By collaborating with a local USADF partner to improve their agricultural techniques and the Kamushoko Cooperative’s organizational capacity, the members have pushed themselves to dream big. Today, the cooperative’s members are financially independent―they are earning regular salaries, opening their first bank accounts and sending their children to school. “We are an example in the community that agriculture can be a business,” said Mukongo.

 

But their big dreams do not stop there. Kamushoko Cooperative was recently awarded a $169,000 USADF enterprise expansion grant to continue to grow their business, purchase processing equipment and build a commercial trading center. The ladies of Kamushoko want to spread their message that farming can mean big business. They are encouraging others to see agriculture as a profitable livelihood by going on the radio in Uganda to share their story and organizing tours of their farm. One of the members, Rosette Kamushaka, says “USADF has helped our cooperative to grow. We now know how to use a bank account, sign checks and pay our farmers. We have even gone on the radio. We talk and the whole country listens to the village women of Kamushoko. Can you imagine?"

 

 

A previous version of this story first appeared in the Feed the Future newsletter.

“Now, He Calls Me Madam” - An International Women’s Day Post

By Christine S. Fowles
Managing Director of Programs, U.S. African Development Foundation

I’ve seen firsthand that African women are the pillars of their communities and powerful agents of change. When we invest in women, we are investing in entire communities, empowering mothers to send their children to school, girls to access health services, and women to become active participants in their country’s development. Now, more than ever, women entrepreneurs can lead the way out of poverty for themselves, their children and their communities.

 

And in many of these places in which my organization, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) works, women are rising to the top as leaders to affect change.

 

Take Annie Kruah, a leader in her community in the village of Karnplay in Nimba county, Liberia. Annie is a visionary with perseverance and grit, and is helping to spur economic growth in her community through the Gbehlay-geh Cooperative Society. Through Annie’s leadership, Gbehlay-geh Society grew from a small rice cooperative to an organization that has rice, palm oil, and cassava products, beekeeping, and livestock. When her community lacked access to any financial services or banking institutions, Annie successfully lobbied for the establishment of the Gbehlay-geh Financial Institute backed by Afriland Bank. She encouraged her fellow members in civic engagement and to participate in Liberia’s development. Now, 95% of Gbehlay-geh’s women members are registered to vote, and almost all voted in the last presidential election.  When the Ebola crisis hit Liberia in 2014, Gbehlay-geh Cooperative became a stable force for the community, and continued to offer financial services and grow food during the health crisis.

 

I’m happy to be working with organizations like Hope Development Initiative (HDI) in northern Uganda, which is empowering women one acre at a time. With a grant from USADF, Founder Agnes Atim Apea organized rice farmers in Amolatar district to grow and collectively sell rice. She had a vision to empower women by using agribusiness to unlock their sense of leadership, citizenship, and entrepreneurial spirit. Through their strength in numbers, the women of HDI cooperative were able to grow their organization, and invite other women from neighboring districts to join too. Now the cooperative is over 8,000 members strong and is entirely women. Among other things, farmers receive training on how to increase their yields, receive tutorials for how to open a bank account and save money, and are able to send their children to school.

 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to invest in change-makers like Annie and Agnes, each in their own ways breaking down legal, social and economic barriers to help women prosper and help their communities thrive. These leaders are central to the development and stability of a village.

 

One of the most inspiring women’s groups I’ve worked with is in Rwanda. A decade ago, two women who were suffering from HIV/AIDS decided to act and self-organize. Fifteen women joined the initiative, and formed Dufashabacu, which means “helping our people” in their local language, and is now more than 85 members strong. The women started in a non-traditional and labor-intensive business: brick-making. With a grant from USADF, Dufashabacu began its operations in making cement brick blocks, mainly used for local construction, and opened a savings and credit fund for its members to start other businesses. The grant also provided for critical training in areas such as leadership, business skills, gender-based violence, and public speaking. With their incomes from the brick-making, Dufashabacu members are able to feed their families, build permanent houses and access electricity and clean water. Most of the women now have individual bank accounts and participate in making decisions on how household incomes are used.

 

In addition, several are serving as representatives on the village and sub-district level. These women who were once shunned in the community for their HIV positive statuses are now community leaders and model citizens.

 

Last year, I met with one of the members of Dufashabacu. Rebecca had participated in USADF-funded workshops such as leadership, entrepreneurship and money management training. When I asked her about the result from her training, if she saw a difference in her own personal life, she replied, “Before I joined this group and earned an income to support my family, my husband used to not respect me, he would call me ‘Hey you’. And now, he calls me Madam.”

 

Stories like Rebecca’s remind me of the importance of helping women gain access to resources, and the power to control those resources. USADF invests not only in local enterprise development, but also in local lives.  Our grants increase women’s choices and transform their power relationships, enabling women to change their lives in ways that benefit them and their communities. 

 

Today on International Women’s Day, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) is proud to announce the launching of a policy that recognizes the need to empower women to participate in the development of their countries, named the Willie Grace Campbell (WGC) Initiative.  The late Willie Grace Campbell is the former Vice Chair of the USADF Board of Directors, and was a tireless advocate for women’s rights at home and abroad. The WGC Initiative to will continue to invest in the lives of women throughout the continent and continue Ms. Campbell’s enduring legacy of fostering women’s leadership as an empowerment strategy, especially at the community level.

Solar Energy Lights Up Zambia

Photo by Rachel Couch for Power Africa

Photo by Rachel Couch for Power Africa

In Zambia, solar energy opens new possibilities for off-grid communities

After a World Bank power auction made Zambia the home of the most affordable grid-scale solar power in Africa, financiers are moving in to invest in the next hot spot of solar energy.

Zambia is attracting large-scale investment and financing, such as solar farms and solar-powered distribution plants. And thanks to a Power Africa partnership that leverages public resources and private capital, the Zambian Government is attracting solar power developers through low tariffs, an enabling regulatory framework, and flexible payment models.

But one of the biggest transformations in solar power is happening at the grassroots level. In Zambia, just 3 percent of the population in rural areas has access to energy. To reach these communities that are far from the national grid, local enterprises in the country are selling off-grid renewable energy technology to rural households, which is spurring economic growth.

The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), a Power Africa partner, funds African-owned enterprises, cooperatives and community-based organizations to build capacity and expand economic opportunities. In 2015, USADF expanded the Off-Grid Energy Challenge, a Power Africa Beyond the Grid partnership, to Zambia to invest in innovative energy enterprises working to provide energy access in rural communities.

Buntungwa Ventures Limited, a small solar enterprise in Luapula Province in northern Zambia, is one of those Challenge winners. Zambian-owned Buntunga Ventures is selling solar home systems to more than 400 households. Each system has a 15-50 watt capacity, enough for households to charge a cell phone, power a fan and turn on a lightbulb. After charging a low upfront cost, the company uses a pay-as-you-go model, allowing customers to gradually pay for their system over a period of time with mobile payments.

Many of the surrounding communities in Mansa district of northern Zambia live far from the national grid with few options for lighting their homes with national power. With a $100,000 grant, Buntungwa Ventures is leveraging its seed capital to boost operations, train female entrepreneurs, and sign agreements with mobile network operators to allow for the flexible pay-as-you-go model.

As solar energy becomes more affordable, more opportunities are arising to connect underserved communities to micro-grids.

Muhanya Solar Limited, another Off-Grid Energy Challenge winner, was awarded a $100,000 grant to build a solar-powered micro-grid to connect 60 families, many for the first time, to a consistent, renewable energy source powered by the sun. The 20 kW solar micro-grid in Sinda village in eastern Zambia will also power a school and local businesses, providing an economic spark for the rural community and proving a model for replication in other regions.

But perhaps most important are the ways in which entrepreneurs are using environmentally friendly innovations to power off-grid communities. SuperRich Energies Limited in southern Zambia is harnessing the power of both the Zambezi River and the sun. With its $100,000 Power Africa grant, SuperRich Energies, a Zambian-owned enterprise, is installing three innovative hybrid hydro-solar systems on the Zambezi, the first of twelve units that will ultimately generate up to 60 kilowatts of electricity for the surrounding villages. The systems utilize a unique floating turbine technology which floats on the surface of the river, minimizing both cost and environmental impact. With a solar-powered back-up system, this hybrid hydro-solar project demonstrates that there is a combination of ways that businesses like SuperRich Energies can turn on the lights for grassroots communities.

Energy access builds economic growth and activity, and these entrepreneurs are demonstrating that with affordable solar energy, local enterprises can run a business selling energy to low-income, rural households in Zambia. With solar innovations across the country, USADF is supporting Zambian enterprises both big and small to expand the solar market to communities living beyond the grid.

Feed The Future Week 2016

Founders of the Gulu Dairy Cooperative Society, Uganda

Founders of the Gulu Dairy Cooperative Society, Uganda

We can end hunger by 2030. The U.S. government’s drumbeat to raise global attention towards the elimination of hunger and poverty rings resoundingly, and everyone has been called upon to do their part.

The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) is a Feed the Future inter-agency partner working with Africa’s most rural and vulnerable populations to support everyone from African farmers to young entrepreneurs. We believe everyone should have a seat at the table and an opportunity to be a part of Africa's growth story. With over 70% of USADF’s grants in agriculture, USADF is committed to supporting African-led, African-driven solutions to ending hunger.

“Even if there is no food, you can give your child milk,” Jessica Otto, highlighting the nutritional value of the cooperative’s work in fighting hunger in northern Uganda.

USADF is driving dairy investments because it remains a transformational value chain to eliminate hunger and diversify the diets of women and children. The model of supporting African solutions is transformative and works across many of the countries in which USADF invests . In northern Uganda, USADF has partnered with Gulu Dairy Cooperative Society, a women’s dairy cooperative that has been a driver of change in the community since the end of the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgence. Seeking safe haven, the women found themselves living together in an internally-displaced persons (IDP) camp, trying to find ways to feed their families and themselves. With 7 founding members and 56 women, the group developed a business and invested in 1 cow. Today the Gulu Dairy women have a herd of cows, and they’ve transformed a dream into a formidable business where women own and maintain cows, manage a milk pasteurization plant, sell milk to the community and a range of value-added dairy products such as yoghurt.

Beatrice Abee said, “We are illiterate but we earn a salary thanks to this cooperative,” while another dairy farmer added, “… we wear happy and proud faces, not faces of victims of war”.

And as Gulu’s post-conflict communities stabilize, the Gulu Dairy Cooperative Society women have secured their own livelihoods. Rose Olea, who joined the cooperative in 2008, makes 350k Uganda shillings ($104) a month in dairy sales. With her income, she has installed a biogas stove through Green Heat (another USADF Power Africa grantee); built a house; and earned respect from her husband for earning an income and contributing to the household.

At USADF’s core, all work must be African-centered in approach and solutions.  Customized specifically for each community, USADF’s local technical assistance works with farmers to take a community approach towards solutions to tackle food insecurity. From driving dairy to planting seeds, USADF leads by listening to local solutions. For example, Hope Development Initiative (HDI) in northern Uganda is a women-led, women-owned rice cooperative in Lira district that struggled for years to make sure there were enough seeds for the next season. After partnering with USADF, HDI has a revolving fund with its cooperative members so they borrow money for the next harvest’s seedlings, and ensure that there is always something to eat. With USADF funding, HDI also purchased a tractor, and leveraged savings to purchase a second, in order to increase yields and production.

Nearly 9,000 cooperative farmers, all of which are women, have been able to produce more bags of rice a year, not only seeing a higher standard of living but are feeding their families. Katie Obote, a member of the group since 2013, started with one acre of land and soon grew her land to over 10 acres. “Before I grew a variety of crops, but had little success with them. Since joining HDI, I have seen many improvements in my life.” Last year, she sold 200 bags of rice and used her profits to buy a cow, buy a motorcycle, and send her children to school. One of HDI’s founding members, Agnes Apea maintains that HDI has proved that farming can be a business, and that the community no longer needs loan or donations, but businesses.

As we commemorate Feed the Future week, USADF applauds the many African farmers, cooperatives and community-based organizations and businesses that promote country-driving solutions and ingenuity in the fight to combat food insecurity. Nations that are food secure are more likely to be peaceful and prosperous, and achieve other goals such as clean water, gender equality and universal primary education. As a member of the Feed the Future Initiative, and the U.S. government’s overall global food security agenda, USADF will continue to invest in and partner with communities to end global hunger and sow the seeds of peace and prosperity for all.

 

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

As we work to end the terrible practice of human trafficking around the world, USADF challenges you to support groups like WAR and SOHASCO. In total, USADF supported each of these partner’s success with less than one million dollars. That is impact, and that is a shining example of how working with African-led organizations on African solutions can ensure future sustainable prosperity. USADF remains committed to providing Africans the resources and skills to be part of their own development story in fighting against human trafficking.