10/22/2013 08:40 EDT | Updated 12/22/2013 05:12 EST

Co-Operatives Supporting Ugandan Farmers Share the Wealth

African elephants are the largest land animals on earth. No other species walking the planet can match their size and strength.

Yet despite their power, elephants remain vulnerable to predators. Lions and even crocodiles prey on young or weak elephants if they can isolate them from the herd. It's why elephants stick together in large groups. By working together, they help to ensure they all remain safe and healthy.

The fact that even the most powerful animals on earth can be vulnerable if they're on their own underscores the importance of community and co-operation, two virtues the Uganda Co-operative Alliance (UCA) promotes through its Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative (IFAPI) in rural Uganda. IFAPI strives to connect farmer co-ops with marketing co-ops and savings and credit co-operatives.

The BOMIDO (Baina Omugisa Integrated Development Organization) Co-operative Society in the Masindi district of Western Uganda is a perfect example of that spirit of co-operation and togetherness working to improve the lives of all of its members.

Baina Omugisa means "the lucky ones," but the members of BOMIDO are making their own luck by working hard and sharing the knowledge they have gained through IFAPI to grow their farms and increase the amount they earn from their produce.

Located about 215 kilometres northwest of the capital of Kampala, the BOMIDO Co-op Society is based in Masindi, a rural town after which the district is named. As in much of rural Uganda, most of the residents in Masindi are poor and derive what little income they can generate from farming.

But the members of BOMIDO, which includes a savings and credit co-op, a marketing co-op and several farmer co-ops, are prospering, thanks to their collective efforts to improve production, market their produce and pool their resources.

Christine Turyagaruka is in her second year as the chairperson of the BOMIDO savings and credit co-op, which was formed in 2009. A teacher by profession, Turyagaruka also works as a farmer. She grows sugar cane, mangos and other crops on 40 acres of land in the Masindi district. She explained that she farms as well as teaches because farming is more profitable.

"In Uganda, you do not earn much money as a teacher," Christine said. "You must have a side profession."

She says she and other members of BOMIDO have benefited greatly from training provided by the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) as part of IFAPI.

"We have benefited in so many ways," Christine said, noting that because of the extra income she was able to earn, she has built a house in her village for herself and her seven children. "I'm proud to say I'm very happy to be in the BOMIDO co-op."

"We are still a young co-op, but we have benefited a lot from the visitors who have come," Christine said.

"It has really changed my life," she added. "It can help you survive."

Emmanuel Aboce is another example of Uganda's brighter future. He's also an example of how savings and credit co-ops are improving the lives of many rural Ugandans.

Emmanuel, a 30-year-old home builder, is one of 651 members of Ikwera savings and credit co-op, located in the Lira district of northern Uganda. A husband and father of two young children, Emmanuel returned to his home community in 2008 after attending university in Kampala. When the Ikwera co-op opened in 2009, Emmanuel joined and borrowed money to build his first house for his family. He has since borrowed more money to plant cash crops and begin construction on a second house that he intends to rent. He says he plans to build more houses in the future, adding that the extra income will enable him to send his children to school.


Emmanuel says his success, aided by support from the co-op, has not gone unnoticed. His neighbours have since followed his lead and become co-op members.

"They have seen the way I am living in the community and that has encouraged them to save with the co-op," he said.

"I think the Ikwera co-op is doing well. We are heading for a good destination. We are serving the community and serving them well," Aboce said, adding that the assistance and training provided by UCA and CCA is playing a big part in bettering the lives of people in his community. "Through the support from you people, we can achieve our determination."

By Jim Harris, a communicator for Credit Union Central of Manitoba. In late 2012 Jim spent two weeks in Uganda, where he took part in a study mission to learn more about the Uganda Co-operative Alliance's Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative, a project supported by the Canadian Co-operative Association.