Crescent Mugisha completed his university studies in 2015. Well aware of the vagaries of finding formal employment in Uganda, he had already made up his mind not to become a statistic in the over-crowded market of job-seekers. As a result, he decided not to apply for jobs, but instead concentrate his efforts on mobilising fellow youths to gain the much needed and much talked about skills in the current Ugandan economy.
In his quest to attain his goal of assisting his fellow youth to contribute positively to and have a lasting impact on their society at a micro-level, Crescent approached many organisations seeking support for his concept. One of the organisations he sought out was Rukiga Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO), a client of Agriterra.
The cooperative was impressed with Crescent’s idea and engaged him through support to the youth with Eur.125 (UGX 500,000) to mobilise fellow youth to engage in skills development. Seventy-six (76) youth were mobilised and the manager of Rukiga SACCO trained them in financial management.
Following the financial management training, the youth formed a savings group, where each youth member would save UGX. 2000 (Eur. 0.5) every week. The weekly collections from the Youth were saved with Rukiga SACCO. Although the youth had set an ambitious target, with the objective of engaging in commercial agriculture, their weekly savings was too small for them to raise adequate capital to enable them attain their goal of ultimately engaging in meaningful commercial farming.
As a result, in 2017, Agriterra together with Rukiga SACCO mobilised the youth to form a Youth Council with meaningful structures within the cooperative. The pioneer membership of the Youth Council was thirty-two (32) members.
The Youth Council was tasked, among others, to mobilise other youths to join the savings group and also engage in commercial agriculture. One year later, in 2018, Crescent attended Agriterra's Youth Leadership Masterclass in the Netherlands and in 2020 he participated in training and induction of local Agripool experts in Uganda.
Meanwhile, in 2018, the Youth Council with the support of Rukiga SACCO, formulated an idea of registering a Youth Producer Cooperative, Kigezi Potato Farmers Cooperative Society Ltd. that is affiliated to Rukiga SACCO. Rukiga SACCO’s major activities in this partnership is to offer affordable credit to the youth farmers. This was a move in the right direction, since the youth who were engaged in farming activities had a number of challenges, foremost being lack of adequate market for their produce and exploitation by middlemen who would sell to major buyers from Kampala, Jinja and other major towns in Uganda.
The middlemen not only acted as gatekeepers, but also bought the produce at very low prices.
The vison of the Youth Council is to be a reliable platform for farmers to transit into commercial farming and grow into sustainable businesses in Kigezi region.
The major value chains of the cooperative are potatoes and onions. The selection of the two enterprises is based on the fact that Rukiga, like the rest of Kigezi, experiences land fragmentation, with the average family land holding being one acre. Potatoes and onions therefore offer a positive return even on small pieces of land. The youth are also engaged in other activities such as piggery, fish farming and poultry keeping. Some of the youth who may not have land for production have been trained in soap making.
In a bid to position the youth cooperative as strong partners with Rukiga SACCO, Agriterra together with Rukiga SACCO, have supported the young cooperative with mentorship. In April 2021, Agriterra offered My Coop training to the youth cooperative.
The youth cooperative has an ambitious target of growing their current membership from the current 429 to 1000 by 2022.
In 2019, the Kigezi Potato Farmers Cooperative Society Ltd. obtained a loan of Eur. 1250 (UGX.5,000,000) at 12% per year on reducing balance from Rukiga SACCO which was used to purchase a mobile irrigation system. The mobile irrigation equipment is hired out to youth members to irrigate individual farms as part of climate smart agriculture.
The mobile irrigation system in a garden
The Kigezi Potato Farmers Cooperative Society Ltd has leased five (5) acres of land for 10 years (renewable) from Government and is planning to set up a potato seed multiplication centre. The seed multiplication centre will include a screen house and a 100 metric ton capacity store by 2023. The potato seed will be distributed to the targeted 1,000 Youth for Table Ware production for household food safety and for market for sustainable incomes.
At the end of the year, all the profit made from the sale of seeds and table ware will be either shared as dividends or reinvested into the business.
The Kigezi Potato Farmers Cooperative Society Ltd is at take off stage, and is very grateful to Agriterra and the management of Rukiga SACCO for having been part of their journey thus far.