‘Together we stand’ agricultural co-operative society

    | January 10, 2011

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    Notes to broadcaster

    Agricultural co-operatives play an important role in the Ugandan economy. Large co-operatives predominate in the coffee, cotton and dairy sectors. But most of these co-operatives are having a very difficult time transitioning from a state-led and financed movement to a member-led and financed one.

    The definition of co-operatives is based on four major concepts: first, they are formed by groups of people who have a shared need or problem. Second, the organization is formed freely by members, who also contribute to its assets. Thirdly, the organization is governed democratically. Fourth, co-operatives are independent enterprises promoted, owned and controlled by member

    Co-operatives can be formed in any sector of the economy, including agriculture, mining, industries and service sectors.

    Agricultural marketing co-operatives have been a popular traditional kind of co-operative development, and have linked developing countries with the rest of the world through export. Most African countries depend on agricultural production for their livelihoods. The statistics indicate that 84 per cent of the population in African countries depends on agriculture as a source of food, income and employment.

    This script is a mini-drama based on actual interviews with farmers. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.


    Mr. Okello: 38 years old. A man who does not see the benefits of his wife being in the farming group Kacel wacung or “Together we stand.”

    Mrs. Okello Balbina: 36 years old. She is the chairperson of the farmers’ [male or female or both] group.

    Their daughter Aber: 18 years old. A student who has finished school but not entered university. She is at home because of lack of fees to continue.

    Mr. Oballim: The district co-operative officer.

    Village farmers

    Narrator: Good afternoon, my listener. It’s 2:00 pm, and this is 102 Mega FM. Today, we present a small drama on agricultural co-operatives. We are going to focus mainly on the Okello family. This family has long been having a lot of problems. The produce they get from their farm is too small to pay their children’s school fees. The wife of Mr. Okello, Balbina, wants to register their farming group Kacel wacung (“Together we stand”) under the co-operative society. They would then be able to get loans to help them increase their yields, get proper medical services, and even pay their children’s school fees. But the husband is opposed to the idea because he does not see a good future for co-operatives.

    Early morning. Cocks are crowing and birds are singing. Background sound of sauce pans and cups being washed and Aber singing softly.

    Balbina: Good morning, my husband. How was your night?

    Mr. Okello: Fine, my wife. And how was yours? Is there something troubling you? You kept tossing here and there the whole night.

    Balbina: Hmm! Nothing except the sight of seeing our daughter still at home while all the others have already gone to school.

    Background sound of washing and singing stops

    Mr. Okello: God said we should not worry about tomorrow because it will provide for itself. Now even if you worry, is money going to fall from heaven? You know for sure that we are poor and cannot afford to pay Aber’s tuition at the university. So stop bothering yourself.

    Balbina: I want to ask you some favours, my husband. But I don’t know if you can grant them.

    Mr. Okello: What is that you want me to do, my wife?

    Balbina: (Clears her throat) Won Aber (Editor’s note: Won means “Father of” and is a sign of respect), I want you to help me with five thousand shillings (Editor’s note: approximately two U.S. dollars). With that money, I can register our farmers’ group with the co-operative society.

    Mr. Okello: What? What are you saying? We don’t have money and you are asking me for money to just go and waste it there? Who told you that co-operatives are still in existence? The co-operatives I knew were during the time of my grandfather. But not now. I don’t have any money to waste.

    Aber: (Knocks on the door) Hello Daddy and Mummy, are you all fine? (Pause) Is there something wrong, mum and daddy? Good morning all of you. How was your night?

    Mr. Okello: Good morning, my daughter. There is nothing wrong. It’s your mother who wants to spoil my day, what! Where on earth have co-operatives worked? You, woman, if you want money then go and ask your father to help you, not me.

    Aber: What money, daddy?

    Mr. Okello: Ask her.

    Balbina: Aber, I am so worried seeing you at home doing nothing. And we can get money if our farmers’ group Kacel Wacung is registered as a co-operative. I asked your father to help me with the 5,000 shillings registration fee that each member must pay.

    Aber: (Whispering so that the father does not hear) Mama, I have some money, twenty thousand shillings (Editor’s note: about nine U.S. dollars) – I will give it to you, mama.

    Balbina: Aber, my daughter, where did you get that money from?

    Aber: Mama, do you remember the last time I went to see my aunt in Pabo?

    Balbina: Yes. But that was two months back.

    Aber: Exactly, mama. She gave me 20,000 shillings to help me buy small things I might need when I go to school. But I have all along kept the money. I have it here. Take it, mama.

    Balbina: Thank you, my daughter. Let me go straight away and talk to all the members of Kacel wacung. I will talk to the members who are ready to give their payments so that we can register as soon as possible.

    Aber: Yes, mother, but they need to know the benefits the group will get from co-operatives.

    Balbina: Right! That is a brilliant idea. Let me talk to Lucima. He will bring the members together for a meeting. We will organize a meeting under the big mango tree for all of us to meet the district co-operative officer.

    SFX: Sound of drums. Fade under town crier.

    Town crier: Hello, here is a very important message for all the members of this community. There is a meeting tonight under the big mango tree. Please come one, come all!

    SFX: Fade up drums, then out.

    Narrator: And so a meeting was organized for all the villagers to meet the district co-operative officer. Over 60 members of Kacel wacung and other villagers sat under the tree waiting for their visitor.

    Balbina: First of all, I want to thank you all for coming to this meeting on very short notice. But before we start our meeting, let’s ask someone to pray for God’s guidance.

    Narrator: And so someone said a prayer. At the end of the prayer, everyone said amen.

    FX: Sound of voices whispering and people settling into their seats

    Balbina: Now, please I want to introduce to you Mr. Oballim. He will tell us where he comes from and what he does.

    Mr. Oballim: My name is Oballim and I am the district co-operative officer in Gulu. I want to tell you what a co-operative is and how you as farmers can benefit from being in a co-operative.

    Good afternoon, members of Kacel wacung. How are you all?

    Members: (Murmurs) We are fine. (Others) We are not fine.

    Mr. Oballim: Good. That is part of life, because there is no one on earth who is fine all the time.

    Farmer 1: Our problems are too much for us to bear. Look, all our children are at home. They cannot go to school because we don’t have money to pay fees.

    Farmer 2: Other farmers are reaping money from their produce. But us … O my God! Even the clothes we wear show our poverty.

    Mr. Oballim: That is why I came – so that we can find a way of forming ourselves into groups. These groups will give us a strong voice.

    Balbina: Let’s not waste a lot of time because our guest has a lot to tell us today about agricultural co-operatives. Our guest, you are most welcome. These are members of Kacel wacung and other villagers. Please talk to them.

    Mr. Oballim: Thank you, madame. Let me start by telling you what an agricultural co-operative is. Co-operatives keep economic benefits within a community. Profit is not siphoned off by outside interests, because the co-op’s members are its owners. The co-op exists to fill a need in a community that is not being met by other businesses.

    Farmer 3: Big man, then how are we going to benefit from it? I thought that since the co-operative is ours, we are free to do anything with the money we get from it.

    Mr. Oballim: That is a very good question. It’s true that you as members own this business. But there will be some guidelines on how to make profits. Otherwise, if there is no guideline, then the co-operative will collapse.

    Members: (Murmurs) Yes, yes, you are right, our man.

    Farmer 2: Big man, you are right. Any organization without a guideline is dead. Even in our homes we have rules and regulations to be followed.

    Mr. Oballim: Good. Back to the benefits of co-operatives. Co-operative members own their business. They provide money for its capital, elect a board of directors, and receive the benefits of ownership through better services. Co-ops teach people how to resolve problems and make decisions democratically. Many individuals who received their education in democracy from co-operatives have gone on to become political leaders in their nations.

    Farmer 3: Our man, how can co-operatives solve our wrangles with each other? For example, last week we had a serious argument about how much each member should get from the sales of our maize.

    Mr. Oballim: Right! The co-operative will have a constitution that will guide you. When you want to do something, you will all consult your constitution. No one will do what is outside the constitution, and when someone does so, there will be a penalty.

    Farmer 2: Who is supposed to write the constitution?

    Mr. Oballim: It’s the responsibility of the members to write the constitution.

    Farmer 1: Will the constitution look like that of Uganda’s Parliament?

    All laugh

    Farmer 1: What! Why are you all laughing? Some of you don’t even know what a constitution is. So don’t laugh about what you don’t know.

    Mr. Oballim: My friend, all of you are right. The constitution will be like that in parliament. But your constitution will handle only your group, unlike Uganda’s that handles all sectors. Other than that, the constitutions are more or less the same.

    (Pause) Please let’s continue with the benefits of co-operatives. (Pause) Co-operatives spread economic power and encourage competition. They provide markets for small producers victimized by powerful companies by working together. They undercut go-betweens and money lenders, whose profits and charges are often exorbitant. Individually, who among you can hire a lorry to come to your farm and collect your harvest?

    Members: (Murmurs)

    Mr. Oballim: None. Because your harvests are too small. But together, you may be able to hire many lorries, or even buy your own lorries in the future. By plowing profits back into their own businesses, co-ops can operate on narrower margins. Thus they help drive down unfair prices, and set affordable prices for goods and services.

    We all know that small farms do not always have transportation to deliver produce to the market. Also, the small volume of their production may put them in an unfavorable negotiating position with wholesalers. In this case, a co-operative can act as an intermediary or go-between to solve problems with wholesalers and with transportation.

    Farmer 1: This sounds good because we have big problems with transportation. And then when we take our produce to the market, sometimes intermediaries want to decide at what price we should sell our produce. Just last week, my brother took his fresh potatoes for sale. When he went to the market, they told him that the price of potatoes had drastically dropped to 20,000 shillings a sack. What else could he do but sell it at that price?

    Farmer 3: Our man …

    Balbina: (Interrupting) Please, let’s give time to our visitor to finish his presentation before we ask questions. Is it okay?

    Members: Yes.

    Mr. Oballim: Co-operatives help people escape poverty and achieve dreams, such as owning a home or giving their children an education. They empower individuals by giving them a chance to participate in decisions which have an impact on them. When they are empowered to make change, members find solutions to their social and economic needs.

    Lastly, co-operatives enable farmers to buy goods at the lowest price because the purchase can be made in large volumes, which gives them bigger profits when they sell them later. Think about how much seeds or organic fertilizer would cost if you buy from the main distributor instead of individually from the middle man.

    Farmer 2: We could even use the lorries we purchase to collect the seeds and bring them to the village!

    Members: Laugh

    Farmer 1: What do we need to do to become a registered farming co-operative?

    Mr. Oballim: This is a good question. All you need is to register with the co-operative society, and there is a small fee that your group needs to pay.

    Farmer 2: How much do we need to pay?

    Mr. Oballim: I need to check (short pause as he checks his books and files) … Yes, I have got the right answer now. Groups like yours pay 100,000 shillings (Editor’s note: about 43 U.S. dollars) for registration. And each member pays a sum of 5,000 shillings.

    Farmer 2: But sir, some of us have not gone to school and cannot sign our names. How can co-operatives work for us?

    Mr. Oballim: There is no problem with not going to school, my friend. All you need to do is elect people who can read and write to the four top positions. Then the others will give advice. Also, co-operatives can organize to educate their members on production techniques, quality improvement, or even how to read.

    Farmer 1: Thank you, our big man. But how sure can we be that when we pay all this money all our problems will be solved?

    Mr. Oballim: Thank you for that good question. I want you to know that being in a co-operative will not solve all your problems unless you members work hard. Co-operatives are a tool to improve yourselves, not the end goal.

    Farmer 2: But sir, how safe is the money we give as registration? We hear there are a lot of corrupt officials in government offices. How secure is our money?

    Farmers 3: Sir, the election is coming closer. Don’t you think our money will be eaten by those with big stomachs?

    Mr. Oballim: Thank you to all who have given these questions. This is an indication that you are serious and want to see all the loopholes closed before you venture into a co-operative. (Pause) Now, it’s true many cooperatives were weakened by years of political and economic conflicts and the actions of some of their leaders, and that they were finally dismantled as part of the economic reforms. But that was long ago. The new government has revised the state of the co-operatives and all is fine now. It is important to have clear elections in your co-operative every year and have an educated board of directors who can prove that there is no corruption in the co-operative. You, as members, have control over this and a responsibility to hold your board or directors accountable to the members.

    Farmer 4: Are there any other immediate benefits from being in co-operatives?

    Mr. Oballim: Members, you should also know that member-owned groups can increase members’ incomes. This can happen directly, for example through bulk input purchases and collective marketing. Or it can happen indirectly, through policy and advocacy initiatives. You will get good incomes because of the profits you obtain as a result.

    Farmer 1: Thank you very much, Mr. Oballim, for all the discussion we had with you. I think it’s now our responsibility to finalize the part that is left for us. Since, as you said, this co-operative will not bring money from heaven, we will have to work hard to make it grow.

    Farmer 2: Thank you all members. We have heard all from Mr. Oballim. The co-operative is a good way to solve our problems.

    All: Yes you are right.

    Farmer 1: We will be successful if we get someone who can read and write and speaks good English to manage this project.

    Farmer 2: No. I don’t agree with your idea. Because a new and educated person will just steal all the monies that we could have generated. I don’t like people who have gone to school because they are all thieves.

    Farmer 1: Why are we so rigid in your thinking? Have you forgotten that some co-operative officials in town do not know our local language? How will you communicate to them when you send the forms?

    Farmer 3: You are right, my friend. Even the constitution that we are to write needs to be done by those who went far with their studies.

    Balbina: Good, this is something we need to look into seriously. (Pause) But if we are to hire someone to help us, where shall we get the money to pay him or her?

    Farmer 3: But Balbina, can’t we seek the service of your daughter Aber? She is a very respectable and bright girl. We have seen her grow and we know she will not betray us.

    Farmer 1: Yes! Aber!

    Farmer 2: Ho! Ho! Why have we all forgotten my niece, Aber?

    Balbina: Okay, I will talk to her. But how long can we expect her to work for free?

    Farmer 2: Members of Kacel wacung, don’t worry. Our co-operative society can forward us a small allowance that can be given to a specialist of any active group. We will give her 100,000 shillings for transportation, airtime and other expenses.

    Farmer 1: Hey big man, where shall we get the money to pay back the co-operative society?

    Farmer 2: After three years, by which time we shall be making some profits, we will start paying back the co-operative society slowly by slowly until the debt is paid. Have you not heard that we as a country are still paying the debts our country incurred 30 years back.

    Balbina: Ha! Ha! God is good. There is nothing impossible for educated people. I will go back to school today!

    Members: All laugh

    Balbina: Since Aber’s father is here, can you talk, my husband?

    Mr. Okello: Prosper, my Kacel wacung! I am ashamed to stand in front of you here because I was so opposed to the formation of this group into a co-operative society. I have not seen any benefits in any of today’s co-operative societies compared to the ones during the time of my father. My wife, I will straight away give you the 5,000 shillings you asked me for the registration. (Pause as he checks his pockets) Here it is!

    Members: Cheering and shouting with joy

    Mr. Okello: From today onwards, I will also register as a member of Kacel wacung group and will support you all. I will also register Aber before she starts her job. Here are 20,000 shillings more for me and Aber – for our registration as new members.

    Members: More cheers and shouts

    Balbina: It’s getting dark now. We should depart. But I want to meet all the executive members on Wednesday.

    Narrator: Thank you very much for listening to this drama. There is a beginning and an end to every story. I am here to say we have come to the end of the drama but the struggles still continue. Lots of greetings from 102 MEGA FM in Gulu, northern Uganda. Bye!


    Contributed by: Grace Amito, MEGA FM, Gulu, Uganda.

    Reviewed by: Rodd Myers, Canadian Co-operative Association.

    Information sources

    Barton, David. 1989, in: Cooperatives in Agriculture, edited by David Cobia. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., p. 30.

    Encyclopedia of Business, 2nd Edition, undated. Cooperatives. http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/encyclopedia/Con-Cos/Cooperatives.html

    Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)