Social fund helps out Gumutindo farmers in difficult times

Posted by Xavier Hamon on 21 September 2015

May and June have been very dry in the mountains around the village of Konokoy in Eastern Uganda. With the rains being late, coffee farmers are still waiting for the cherries to plump up and turn red, ready for harvesting. Farmers rely on the coffee harvest for their main income of the year.

I am travelling with Victor Mandu, who is in charge of supporting savings and loans groups at Gumutindo cooperative. "You see, here is my home town Bubulo. I live very close to the farmers. We have had a lot of sunshine recently and not enough rain".

Farmers will later tell me that food has been scarce – the lack of rain also affected their vegetable and fruit gardens, making it difficult to feed their families.  

Fortunately, they have been able to fall back on their 'Social Fund', an emergency and charitable fund set aside by the savings and loan group to help them through a crisis such as this. The social fund will be replenished through coffee sales and regular savings.

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Coffee farmer, Martin Maloni, 24, explained to me the benefits that the social fund and having the facility to save have had on him and his family, "‘My family wanted me to withdraw our savings and leave the group, but after attending one meeting, I understood the benefits of saving and being part of the group. So I told them we should stay. When food became scarce, the group bought food and distributed it using the social fund. It is then they understood it was a good thing. And we have saved 450,000 Ush (around $125) this year alone. I am still studying nursing, and hope to buy a cow to have manure so that I can have a fertile soil and good coffee. I also want to stay with the group and continue saving."

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Saving and loans groups in the area started two years ago with a group of around 50 men and women, called Bunabumboy. They aim to provide farmers and their families with an opportunity to safely, locally and sustainably save money; as well as accessing loans for diversification of business activities, paying school fees, healthcare and investing in coffee production. The groups are also proving to be a great place to make friends and share day-to-day farming challenges and discuss the coffee business. 

Twin and Eat Fair (a Fairtrade campaign by Compass Group) have helped set up these saving groups and kick start revolving fund when they reach maturity, to support the investment in farming diversification through small animal rearing and livestock. Local cows provide farmers families with dung which they use for compost, milk for children, and additional income.

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"We milk our three cows twice a day. About 20 litres in the morning that we sieve and pack to deliver to the local dairy centre so we get money. In the evening we milk again and keep it for the family. This is the record book"

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WOMEN PARTICIPATING IN THEIR OWN RIGHT

In addition to supporting the saving groups, Eat Fair funds are also used to promote increased gender equality at a household-level in coffee farming communities. Women and men participate together in workshops and continue to work through specific activities at home to consider why greater equality is beneficial for women, for families and for overall household income. A key aim is to transfer a proportion of land ownership to women, so that they can take direct responsibility for the earnings from their work.

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Agnes, a local leader explains, "As a group we do home visits. Every two weeks we go to a member house and discuss what progress they have achieved according to their vision as a family". In GALS (Gender Action and Learning System) we have learnt how to use tools such as the vision journey to plan for our future". 

SUSTAINABLE LAND; SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

The coffee farmers’ groups are also learning about soil conservation, agroforestry and new techniques though field schools organised twice a month on demonstration field plots within their communities. The hands-on field schools see farmers learning about soil erosion, shade management and improved coffee management practices such as pruning and organic pest control. 

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The natural permanent ground cover maintained on this coffee field stabilises the soil and increases organic matter through leaf fall, which helps to boost soil life. 

Progress is steady. It takes time to create change in social dynamics, in handling money and promoting a saving culture, and in realising the importance of soil ecology. But by tackling all three at the same time, together we are improving not just livelihood, and income generation but also climate resilience. 

It is fantastic to know that the whole value chain is involved in this project. From a smallholder cooperative union in Uganda throughout a food industry leader in the UK. 

So ‘Eat Fair’ and have a positive impact on coffee families who are growing your daily brew!