One of the inspirational speakers in Kampala recently urged people to embrace the power and strength of teamwork. He illustrated team as “together each of us achieves more.”

Indeed, when you visit Bicopa Coffee Factory in Ibanda Town Council, you realise and feel the power and strength of teamwork just like the inspirational speaker stated.

Bicopa is an acronym for Bisheshe Coffee Processors Association, a factory that was started out of Shs20,000 farmers’ monthly contributions.

Dishonest middlemen
Mr Franklyn Mugizi, the chairman of Bicopa, says the dream to start the factory was conceived in 2010 because farmers were falling prey to unscrupulous traders.

He says traders and their middlemen or procurement agents could use the excuse of poor quality to frustrate their seasonal efforts.
“Most of us could be disappointed by the prices at which traders bought our products. We could feel cheated. We decided to raise Shs20,000 each to buy inputs and also give loans to ourselves,” Mr Mugizi says.

One of Bicopa’s procurement officers, Mr Lawrence Mwijukye, stresses that when they bought inputs such as a fertilisers, spray pumps, tarpaulins and pesticides, their yields and quality improved.

“One of the reasons traders would give us was that our crops were always of poor quality. We bought tarpaulins and supplied fertilisers to all our members. Our yields improved,” he says.

Value addition starts
After improved yields, farmers agreed to add value to their products. They started raising funds to buy silos, hailers and also built a store that accommodates more than 20 tonnes of produce.

In addition, they bought machines for de-husking and pulping coffee. These initiatives have not disappointed them as they now sell in bulk and determine their own prices because of improved quality of their coffee, maize and beans.

Mr Mugizi says they sought services of agronomic experts who trained 20 members on good agriculture practices such as garden preparation, soil testing and sampling.

Other areas that were covered during the training include weeding with chemicals, spraying, pre and post-harvest handling.

The trainees passed on the skills to other farmers and apparently more than 500 farmers have acquired the skills.
Among other experts who equipped farmers with modern skills were those from USAID, Feed the Future Crop Productivity and Marketing Activity (CPM).
They first trained 20 ‘village agents’ who later trained other members.

Mr Mwijukye, who was among the agents trained by CPM and is now a lead procurement officer in Kasangura Sub-county, has 520 farmers under his supervision.
“I mobilise and teach farmers about coffee planting, spraying, pruning and drying. We collect all our produce and sell as a team at agreed prices,” Mr Mwijukye stresses.

Another village agent, Mr Deogratius Kanyomoozi, who has 575 farmers under his leadership, puts emphasis on pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser usage.

“Weeding and controlling pests were always a challenge to all of us. But since we decided to work as a team, such challenges are now history,” Mr Kanyomoozi notes.

Bicopa started with about 200 farmers but the membership has since grown to more than 2,000 people; with an additional 5,000 farmers trading with the association. The farmers raised 13,852; 16,187 and 23,674 metric tonnes in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. They sell their coffee to Banyankole Coffee Traders (BCT) based in Bushenyi District.

Achievements
Mr Godfrey Natuhamya, the manager of Bicopa, says their factory has not only benefited farmers but has also provided employment to youth who earn from offering spraying services. The spray team charges Shs50,000 per acre of beans, Shs60,000 per acre of maize and Shs70,000 per acre of coffee.

In addition, the Bicopa spray team earns from pruning coffee and banana trees. They charge Shs500 per coffee tree and Shs300 per banana tree.

“These youth (spraying team) take 60 per cent of the proceeds and bring 40 per to the association which is used to cater for utility bills,” Mr Natuhamya explains.
Mr Natuhamya says the seasonal contributions have also helped farmers start Bicopa Savings and Credit Cooperation where farmers have access to loans to solve pressing problems such as illness and school feels. This, he says, has helped to curb the habit of selling coffee beans on trees because of emerging problems.

“Many of our farmers were not benefitting from their efforts because they often sold coffee beans from the gardens because of financial challenges. The loan sharks could take advantage and buy their coffee very cheaply, leaving them with almost nothing,” Mr Natuhamya adds.

Mr Mwijukye supplements that farmers had no choice but to sell coffee at the prices set by moneylenders. “Many farmers would fall victim of unscrupulous traders disguising as moneylenders. When you have someone’s loan, he has powers to make you decide in his favour,” he observes.

“Many of our members have built houses, bought land and cattle because of this association. If you frustrate our intention, we let you go,” he says.
In a few years, Bicopa members see themselves buying more silos and exporting their coffee.

Discipline
To instill honesty and discipline among members, a farmer who sells their produce from the garden, is warned and eventually dismissed from the association when no change is seen.

Challenges
Bicopa is not without challenges as the leaders say. Sometimes their produce is affected by weather calamities such as drought, insufficient or too much rainfall that leave crops dry or destroyed. As a result, famers who had borrowed from the Sacco find it difficult to pay back the loans they took yet the money is needed by other members. In addition, some farmers are dishonest to the association for example they take loans for buying agro-inputs but divert it to other things. “When you divert the money you have borrowed to invest in a particular project, it becomes difficult to pay back. Some farmers still go around with traders and sell their produce in gardens and they cry foul afterwards,” Mr Mugizi says.