Interview with Elizabeth Nsimadala
A glut of bananas during peak season in southwest Uganda led to plummeting prices and massive wastage due to poor post-harvest management. Elizabeth Nsimadala, publicity secretary of both the Tigebwa Rural Producer Organisation and Nyabubare Area Cooperative Enterprise, explains how the two organisations developed an innovative solution to the problem. This enterprising agricultural cooperative has embarked on banana wine production, helping members to process, bottle and market surplus produce – with substantial benefits to farmers.
Tell us about your cooperative, and what kind of products it is involved in.
Our main focus is banana wine production, though some members are also involved in coffee and honey. We are based in a banana growing region and during the peak season, the price of a bunch of bananas can fall as low as US$0.50 (€0.45). That’s why we came up with the idea of adding value to our main crop by making wine from it. As a result, the net profit from the same average-sized bunch of bananas is now more than $150 (€135) after value addition.
What are the benefits that member farmers have obtained as a result?
The banana wine sector developed by our cooperative has led to a great transformation for the local community. It has produced employment opportunities, especially for women and young people. And it has resulted in infrastructural development, such a storage facility, which in turn reduces post-harvest losses. Members of the community can now afford more modern housing, and to send their children to school. The cooperative also has corporate social responsibilities, so part of the profits have paid for small bridges to be built in the villages, as well as improved water sources. Personally, I have also benefited a great deal from my involvement in the cooperative, where I am publicity secretary. I am the national treasurer of the Uganda Cooperative Alliance and I am currently the regional women’s representative of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF).
What services does your cooperative offer?
Firstly, we provide aggregation. We do joint processing and marketing.
Member farmers bring their bananas to the cooperative to be processed – we currently have around 150 members. We also conduct skills training for youth. The cooperative’s involvement in developing the banana wine sector has been very important for youth employment. Young people are employed in the processing, packaging and marketing, and these are seen as cool jobs.
What is the market for your products and where do you sell them?
We produce about 4,000 litres per month, and more during the peak production periods, which are from April to July and November to December. The market for this wine now exceeds supply, and we sell it to supermarkets, and at social functions such as weddings and birthday parties. The coffee sector is also doing well. We are working with the Ankole Coffee Producers Cooperative Union, which sells coffee through fair trade. Honey also has a local market, but very few of our members are involved in that so far.
What have been some of the challenges, and how have you addressed them?
One of the challenges has been putting in place storage facilities. As a cooperative, we have set up a small facility, though we still need more space. Also, we are rural-based and we don’t have electricity, so much of the work is done manually. With good technologies, we could boost production. Finance is another issue, and making decisions about spending revenue can be a problem. There is a need for more democracy. Most of the production is done by women and youth, but when it comes to spending, it is men who make the decisions.
Is side-selling a problem and what can be done to tackle it?
It’s not a problem for banana wine, but for coffee, in particular, side-selling is a challenge, when members sell to middlemen, to pay for urgent needs, such as school fees. Our cooperative has addressed this issue by being part of a Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation (SACCO), which enables members to save and access loans to solve their cash flow problems. This model has really reduced the issue of side-selling.
How important is good management in a cooperative?
Management and leadership are the key drivers of a cooperative. To have success you must have good leaders, who are visionary, so that ideas and innovations can be implemented, and the cooperative can move forward. If you have leaders who cannot think outside the box, there will be no transformation from one year to another.
What are your hopes for your cooperative, and what plans do you have?
Our vision is to see our products on the shelves of international markets. To achieve that, we need the technologies for production and processing, but also financing. We also need capacity-building across the value chain, to ensure quality production, good packaging for international markets, and the right kind of labelling. Support in all these areas would help us to cross borders with our products and achieve our goals.