Over 80% farmers in Kigezi region are involved in the production of Irish Potatoes for both food and income security. The production of Irish potatoes in Kigezi region accounts for 60% of the national potato production. A number of potato varieties are grown including Kinigye, Rwangume, Rutuku, Victoria, Katch Pot 1 and Rwashakyi.
However, farmers that are involved in the production and marketing of Irish Potatoes do encounter a number of challenges which among others include pests and diseases, climate change, limited accessibility to market information, price fluctuations, low prices, delayed payments by creditors, limited and production losses through perishability, inaccessible and poor road networks which limit farmers in accessing better markets, poor storage facilities among others.
Related to that, there are also the institutional/ organizational challenges have also created that have opportunities for the middle men to cheat farmers.
In a bid to address some of these challenges, FAO and EHCAI have played a key role of supporting farmers through designing project interventions which have not only promoted institutional capacity of farmer groups but have also created a favourable environment through which farmers are meant to conduct potato business. A number of cooperatives have therefore been formed and strengthened in Kigezi region with a view of increasing their institutional capacities in conducting cooperative businesses.
Muko Expanded Potato Producer Cooperative Society is one of the farmer organizations that have been supported by FAO and Excel Hort Consult in addressing both production and marketing challenges. The formation and registration of this cooperative was facilitated by Excel Hot Consult with support from FAO during the implementation of a project’ Improvement of food security in cross border districts of Burundi, Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. The project supported cooperatives involved in both Irish potato and honey value chains between 2009 and 2013. The project was funded by Italian Development Cooperation under the Food security through commercialization of Agriculture Program in Eastern Africa. The key achievements of the project were establishment of both ware and seed stores, increased knowledge and skills on potato production through farmer field schools, market development and linkages and institutional capacity building.
All these have been key in sustaining the operations of the formed cooperatives. Muko Expanded Potato Producers Cooperative has strategically positioned itself as one of the seed producers in the region and has market opportunities from both local farmers and regional farmers from Rwanda. The average cost of 100 kilogram bag of seed is 180,000= compared 90,000= of ware potatoes. The cooperative has also intensified savings and credit activities which has enabled members to access micro loans which they are using for agricultural financing and meeting other household needs.
The sustainability of the cooperative society has also attracted other development partners like International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC) which has also among other interventions supported the establishment of diffused light stores that are meant for promoting clean seed production.
The continued existence and operation of cooperative group since its formation has continued to attract development funds flow specifically in addressing production and marketing challenges. FAO and Excel Hort Consult are currently supporting the cooperative society through the Roots and Tuber Project that is funded by European Union. The project uses farmer field school approach and inclusive business model to enhance production and marketing initiatives through which farmers will be able to tap market opportunities at local, national and regional levels. The project has therefore in addition to the trainings in modern farming systems supported farmer field schools with agri-inputs demonstration materials for establishment of demonstration gardens.
The production of potatoes at farmer field school and individual levels enables the implementation of inclusive business model that promotes potato business at cooperative level. Through this model, Muko expanded Potato Producers Cooperative Society has been able to sign a memorandum of understanding with potential traders of Kabale Central Market Potato traders Association and Bumonde Potato Traders Association. This has promoted the formal business dealings between the cooperative and traders. The role of EHCAI and FAO therefore is much felt by cooperative members as they have not only strengthened the cooperative capacities but have also opened up both marketing, local government and other development partnerships opportunities .