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From the hills of Sebei, Mengya Cooperative sails to victory in Coop360 Innovations Award

KAMPALA, March 22, 2024 – It was a dream come true for Mengya Integrated Farmers’ Cooperative Society from the hills of Sebei in Eastern Uganda, after sweeping away all other competitors in a highly competitive contention for the king of an impactful innovation.

The Benet community-dominated cooperative found in Kween district specialises in growing Irish potatoes throughout the year regardless of the climate seasons that Uganda experiences. This is enabled by a simple irrigation technology that uses gravity to supply water to the gardens, hence ensuring massive production of the Irish potatoes.

The growing of Irish potatoes has impacted lives of the community, with the members involved to earn income that has improved their livelihoods.

The cooperative has addressed more community challenges including nutritional upsets, and literacy as well as changing the community attitude towards communal farming.

“In fact we are all thrilled to win this competition. We started this cooperative and talked to our members to get into the activity with many not sure if we would make it. It has not been easy especially with our terrain in Kween. But we also thank the Uhuru Institute for reaching us in the mountains of Kween, it is not easy to get to Mengya,” said the Cooperative Manager Moses Chelop after receiving the award of Shs 20 million after his cooperative emerged the best in the inaugural Coop360 Innovations Award organised by The Uhuru Institute for Social Development [TUI], and partners such as Busara Centre for Behavioural Economics, Goldstone, NTV Uganda, theCooperator Magazine, Liberty Insurance, and Bank of Uganda among others.

The Cooperative boosts of a ready market within Uganda, and Kenya and Rwanda, supplying Irish potatoes for both consumption, and planting.

In a close second, Bushika Integrated Area Cooperative Enterprise from Bududa District demonstrated commendable innovation, securing a prominent position among the nation’s cooperatives. The cooperative is involved in multiple lines of production including apiary, dairy farming, education and literacy, financial empowerment corn production, winery among others. This has enabled them impact the community around through creating employment, improving livelihoods, and mitigating the effects climate change.

Bududa Integrated Area Cooperative Enterprise came second in Coop360 Innovations Award competition (Courtesy photo).

Additionally, Kibinge Coffee Farmers’ Co-operative Society from Bukomansimbi District claimed the position of second runner-up, highlighting their significant contribution of the farm management initiative where they maintain coffee farms on behalf of the owners to make a commission after the sale of the coffee.

Speaking as the Chief Guest at the awarding ceremony held at Sheraton Kampala Hotel on March 20, 2024, the President of both the Pan African Famers Organisation (PADO) and Eastern Africa Farmers Federation [EAFF] Elizzabeth Nsimadala, lauded TUI and its partners for orchestrating the groundbreaking ‘First-ever’ Innovations Award in East Africa, setting a precedent for cooperative recognition across the continent. Nsimadala pledged her unwavering support for this initiative.

She emphasised the pivotal role of cooperatives in mitigating the impacts of climate change and as a catalyst for societal transformation of the communities.

“Today, it is unequivocal that cooperatives serve as a dedicated vehicle for socioeconomic progress. Do you have any doubts, we have seen multinational companies close their doors, but our cooperatives are still surviving the global crises,” she noted.

Nsimadala noted that the cooperatives are tailored on resilience amidst all time global challenges, ranging from political unrest to climate change-induced disasters.

Some of the guests that attended the finale of Coop360 Innovation Award at Sheraton Kampala Hotel (Courtesy photo).

However, she lamented the lack of adaptation financing to alleviate the effects of climate change and advocated for easier access to finance for cooperatives. She pledged to support TUI and partners come next year’s edition of Coop360 Innovations Award.

The Chief Executive Officer TUI, Leonard Okello articulated his commitment to bolstering the competitive edge of businesses within the cooperative sector, stressing that cooperatives world over, because of their unique business model, remain critical in the socio-economic transformation of members and communities.

TUI CEO Leornard Okello

However, Okello urged cooperatives to be innovative in the world dominated by capitalised, stating that the days of Ugandan cooperatives monopolising production, processing, and marketing ended as the country embraced privatisation.

Okello said TUI would want to make the innovation award to be held annually. “It’s our dream for The Coop360° Network Innovations Award to become an annual event, recognizing cooperatives that have innovated to enhance membership value, stabilize businesses, and impact communities,” he said.

The Cooperative recognition journey

To boost the competitiveness of Ugandan cooperatives, the Uhuru Institute for Social Development, alongside a consortium of business partners, embarked on a comprehensive trail throughout the country as part of the Coop3600 Innovations Award initiative.

Spanning from the breathtaking landscapes of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Western Uganda to the rugged terrain of Sebei [Mount Elgon], the picturesque beauty of Bugisu, the heart of Lango, the lush West Nile, and the bustling Central region, the initiative sought to identify and reward the most competitive and innovative cooperatives.

In Western Uganda, only three cooperatives pitched their innovative ideas, including Kanungu’s Reformed Poachers and Batwa Farmers’ Cooperative Society (REPABFCOS) and Bwindi Coffee Growers Cooperative Limited. Meanwhile, in Sebei, five cooperatives vied for recognition including Wagagai Coffee Farmers SACCO and Mengya Integrated Farmers’ Cooperative Society.

Moving to Eastern Uganda, four cooperatives presented their innovative concepts, including Bushika Integrated Area Cooperative Enterprise and Ngora District Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Society (GODFACOS).

More guests that attended the award giving ceremony

In Lira, judges witnessed a high number of cooperatives pitching their ideas each day, with notable participants including Amuca Producers and Marketing Cooperative, Lira Diocese Multipurpose Cooperative, and Nyekorach Community Farmers Cooperative Society.

Among them, Amuca Producers and Marketing Cooperative stood out, securing a spot in the top six finalists.

In Central Uganda, Mushana SACCO, Uganda Central Co-operative Financial Services, Kibinge Coffee Farmers’ Co-operative Society, and URA STAFF SACCO competed to be crowned.

One of the standout moments was the presentation by Uganda Central Cooperative Financial Services, a cooperative established with the vision of providing financial services to a wide spectrum of cooperatives in Uganda, including apexes, unions, SACCOs, and primary societies.

Although UCCFS initially focused on its core role, it has since expanded its scope to seek digital solutions tailored for cooperatives. Specifically, it now specialises in developing information and communication technology (ICT) solutions for SACCOs in Uganda.

“We developed a financial technology to ease transactions from members to the cooperative and vice versa because it is not viable to waste time travelling to the offices of the SACCO to do a simple transaction,” remarked Humphry Walusimbi, Head of ICT at the cooperative.

The judges, comprising industry experts, were impressed by the depth of innovation showcased by all the participants, with each offering a unique perspective on addressing challenges and opportunities within various sectors, from agriculture to healthcare to finance.

As the day drew to a close, Kibinge Coffee pitched their idea that, for almost 10 years, empowered the membership by ensuring increased quality and in the appropriate quantities of coffee supplied by the members to the cooperative.

TUI’s Operations Director Jane Amuge Okello (R) was among the judges and urged cooperatives to continue innovating to impact members and communities (Courtesy photo).

Rogers Sserubumbwe, the manager at the cooperative, says they identified elderly members who might struggle to maintain their coffee farms adequately, affecting the quality and the cooperative assigned a team of youthful individuals to assist and provide guidance to these members in addressing their challenges and developing solutions.

“Addressing the low productivity of coffee, we shifted our focus to a holistic seed-to-cup’ approach, roasting coffee beans ourselves, we’re not just brewing a beverage but appreciating coffee as a vital part of our food culture, propelling us forward,” said Sserubumbwa.

Considering their established presence on European and American market tables, the judges recommended that, in the future, Kibinge Coffee should contemplate competing in the marketing and communications category.

The competition’s finale in Kampala, broadcast live on NTV Uganda, attracted guests from sectors such as finance, agriculture, government, and cooperatives, media among others.

According to Daniel Bukenya, Head of the Judging Committee, the cooperatives were awarded based on a range of inventions that were evaluated for their innovativeness, governance frameworks, scalability, and sustainability.

The judges for Coop360 Innovations Award competition were introduced to the audience at Sheraton Kampala Hotel (Courtesy photo).

About the Coop 3600 Innovation Award

The Innovations Award, a collaborative effort between the Uhuru Institute for Social Development and esteemed partners such as NTV Uganda, Bank of Uganda, Busara Centre for Behavioural Research, Goldstone, Spark TV, The Cooperator, and Liberty Assurance, has been unveiled. This initiative is the first of its kind and seeks to foster competitiveness and stimulate creativity within Uganda’s cooperative sector, ultimately driving progress and innovation across various fields.

The award is the first of its kind in the history of Uganda, East Africa, and the Africa region.

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