Coffee came to Mbarara in the 1930s, with the hilly ranges providing pasture and fertile soils to support herding and cultivation.
Earlier attempts by the colonial government to introduce a cash crop to Ankole had been defeated by the population, who roasted the cotton seeds they had been told to plant.
However, when poll tax began to bite, coffee became the cash crop of choice and has kept farmers like Mzee Deogratius Kabaho earning a living, long after the tax was scrapped up to date.
From planting coffee Mzee Kabaho speaks of being able to educate his seven children, although three are now deceased. He has a three-roomed house to his name and a couple of cows.
The coffee boom also gave birth to the Banyankole Kweterana cooperative union, founded in 1958, the union got to simple rise not just as the Ankole identity and unity, but also as Ankole’s prosperity.
Karuhanga Tom the Operations Officer/Co-operative Education Publicity Officer of Banyankole Kweterana cooperative says cooperatives are social enterprises and at the same time, economic enterprises, instilling saving business amongst members.
The union saw tremendous growth through the ’60s, helping build infrastructure and employing locals. The growth of Mbarara town too was driven in part by the union.
On a low side, the coup times that continued until 1971, when Iddi Amin took power, with his government sucking the powers of the cooperators, hurt the cooperative, Matters only worsened with the war of 1978 – 9, when the Tanzanians came to overthrow Iddi Amin; the cooperative was disturbed in its operations.
It could not access the market, could not sell anything, and therefore was in stagnation. Machinery ready to export coffee was also grabbed. Karuhanga Tom the Operations Officer/Co-operative Education Publicity Officer of Banyankole Kweterana cooperative says that coup time was most dreadful to their cooperative.
Several years later, the opening up of the economy in 1991, found Banyankole Kweterana co-operative society already on the verge of collapse, like many other cooperative unions across Uganda, it lost the monopoly to buy and export coffee, at the time it needed it the most.
Decades later, the union soldiers on to recovery.
‘’I believe the group has the ability to grow the processing plant, as well as increase our membership of over 350 registered shareholder members’’, says Karuhanga Tom the Operations Officer/Co-operative Education Publicity Officer of Banyankole Kweterana cooperative.
In more recent times, the government of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has taken measures to restore cooperative unions across the country as ways of fostering economic growth, targeting a vision of Uganda becoming a middle-income country by 2040. The confidence is that in togetherness is the achievement of economic growth, just like Banyankole Kweterana means “People of Ankole region working together”.