By Edwin Muhumuza
Economic experts have hailed the role of cooperatives in economic development arguing that they are still relevant following concerns of a struggling economy.They argue based on their potentialto increase vibrancy in economic activity especially in the agriculture sector.
Economist, Dr.Fred Muhumuza says all strategies outlined in the budget 2017/18 will not push Uganda to middle income status unless small holder farmers are organized and empowered through cooperatives.
”Development is anchored on institutions .People do not trust people but institutions. To re organize agriculture is going to involve revisiting our institutions and one among these is the cooperatives, trying to improve the quality of those small holder farmers.”
He disputes the narrative that small holder farmers are not commercial citing examples of matooke and milk producers in western Uganda who are commercial.
“it is people who want to grab other peoples land who say people must leave the land so that we can commercialize, you can still commercialize under small holder farming models.’ says Muhumuza.
He further notes that under the current regime of governance,there is need to ensure that they are competitive through stringent regulation and accountability.
Senior Development Consultant,Denis Tukahikaho notes that without cooperation Uganda will not advance inspite of aspirations to reach middle income status by 2020 and 2040.He expressed concern on common sentiments that cooperatives were killed and buried by the regime with the aim of impoverishingUgandans so they can be easily ruled. Tukahikaho defers that Union leaders participated in looting of assets of cooperatives and willingly consented to lend assets to rebels.He notes that with liberation Uganda’s coffee was devalued on the market and farmers lost morale,faulting union leaders on excitement to abandon the movement to individual buyers.
‘In Uganda because of the land tenure system we have no space for commercial farmers like in South Africa but only individual farmers who when brought together they make a pool for mass production.’ said Denis Tukahikaho.
Participants have called for change in perception regarding cooperatives as not only agricultural based but diverse inform of health,finance,transport,IT among others during a workshop organized by the Uhuru Institute for Social Development in Kampala, on the role of the cooperative movement and whether it is still relevant in Uganda.
Between 1960 and 1980, cooperatives were the engine for Uganda’s economic development, employing two halves the country’s civil service and handling over 70% of Uganda’s cash crops. In the early 1990’s the economy was liberalized and other private businesses entered the market and cooperatives died out but there is increasing demand for their restoration today.