In a region where farmers faced challenges in marketing their produce and lacked access to essential resources, the Apala Area Cooperative Society emerged as a beacon of hope, bringing together 17 farmer groups from different villages in Apala parish. Since its establishment in 2015, the cooperative has been dedicated to supporting small-scale farmers and improving their livelihoods.
Nelson Echar, a member of the Apala Area Cooperative Society, highlighted the motivation behind its creation. “The farmers in Apala were accustomed to handouts, after returning from internally displaced person camps,” he explained. “To address this dependency, we formed the cooperative to provide marketing expertise and enable self-sufficiency.” With 894 farmers, of whom 523 are women, the cooperative aims to empower its members and promote economic growth in the region.
The cooperative’s partnership with various entities, such as the Government of Uganda and the Islamic Development Bank, has led to significant infrastructure development on their land. A storage facility for sunflower seeds, a maize mill, and an oil press for sunflower have been established, and the land has been fenced off. The Organisation for Community Action (OCA) played a vital role in constructing the initial structures on the land in 2020. However, challenges emerged along the way. The maize mill faced a breakdown in 2021 due to prolonged periods of disuse and the lack of electricity. Ogwang Tony Lameck, a board member and Focal Person for NGOs, shared their plans to transition to clean energy. “We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of electricity to operate the mill sustainably,” he stated.
Driven by a profit-making approach, the cooperative also encourages the establishment of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs). Currently, four VSLAs operate at the village level, with each group comprising 30 members. The cooperative aims to bring these associations to the primary level, where they will merge to form Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations (SACCOs).
Ogwang highlighted the cooperative’s focus on improving agricultural practices. “We work closely with Amagara Commodities Ltd, who have provided improved seeds and training on agronomical practices,” he stated. The cooperative aims to enhance climate resilience and productivity among its members. Soil testing and geotagging initiatives have been undertaken to optimize farming practices.
Amagara Commodities Ltd is an implementing partner in the cereals and pulses value chains for aBi Development.
Cyprian Echal, the chairman of the board, expressed gratitude for the support received. “Amagara Commodities has provided us with invaluable knowledge and resources,” he said. However, the high cost of fertilizers remains a challenge for farmers. Echal emphasized the need for continued support to make essential resources more accessible.
The recent visit from the appraisal team from Denmark, including member Henrik Kjærsig, brought valuable insights to the cooperative. Henrik acknowledged the positive impact of the demonstration plots on the entire village, highlighting the importance of sharing knowledge and best practices.
Climate change and its implications were a key concern raised by the farmers. They discussed the need for irrigation to mitigate the impact of irregular rainfall patterns. Additionally, the community expressed concerns about the theft of their crops by neighbouring communities.
The Apala Area Cooperative Society continues to strive towards empowering farmers, enhancing agricultural productivity, and fostering sustainable development in Northern Uganda. With the collective efforts of its members and supportive partnerships, the cooperative remains committed to improving the lives of rural communities and creating a brighter future.