Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union
Women have always been valued and recognised as farmers and household earners by Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union. In 1999 BJCU initially formed as a microfinance society to alleviate rural poverty, with women counting for 98% of the membership. Despite having the finance to invest in new income-generating activities, BJCU realised that many women members were still unable to really increase their income due to lack of control over assets and decision-making within their households.
To combat these issues, BCJU encouraged men and women farmers to discuss for the first time how income was shared within the family and how work was divided between husband and wife. Couples used simple visioning tools to develop long-term financial plans that also involved investing in coffee quality. As a direct result coffee yields, coffee quality and family income began to increase. This work has reached all farmers, at all washing stations, and on visiting, the farmers are proud to display and explain their vision mapping.
The organisation has also inspired and trained men and women farmers all over East Africa in the GALS approach. Baluku Paineto has spoken at several events around the world, including SCAA, in the US, and recently as a panelist on Gender Equity at AFCA in Addis Ababa. He has gone on to share and teach this information directly with other coffee cooperatives, including Muungano, in the DRC, and Vuasu Cooperative Union in Tanzania.
Moving from exporting non-specialty grade coffee (2 containers in 2011) to 20 containers at average in 2016, with associated premiums shows the determination and skill of the membership and staff at BJCU. BJCU were recognised for this work by winning the highly prestigious 2015 SCAA sustainability award.
Farmers are strongly entwined in the management structures of BJCU and invested their own capital to build micro-washing stations to directly process cherry at a decentralized, village level. Investments have also been made to improve sustainable agriculture techniques via a network of farmer field schools, lead farmers and demonstration plots. Bukonzo Joint has been strategic in including their local community in the cooperative's success, which has resulted in higher volume collections, and increasing members.
Bukonzo Joint continues to work to improve the living standards of its members by giving greater access to microfinance loans and business planning support.