A visit to Bukonzo Joint Cooperative in Uganda

Three colleagues from Rabobank Westfriesland - Oost travelled to Uganda in March 2014 to gain better insight into the Bukonzo coffee cooperative supported by Rabobank Foundation.

As part of Rabobank Foundation’s Adoption Programme, the local Dutch bank has been affiliated  with this coffee cooperative for three years. Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Microfinance Society (BJFS) was established in the late 1990s to give the underprivileged and poor people acces to financial services. Bukonzo operates in a remote area, close to the Congolese border. Originally it was a saving and credit cooperative, focussing on women. The organisation has now become a cooperative of coffeeproducers as the majority of its members are coffee farmers.

Rabobank Foundation has already been supporting Bukonzo for some years. As a result of the technical and financial support given by Rabobank Foundation, Bukonzo has been able to develop into a professional organization over the past few years.  Today they are exporting increasingly large quantities of  coffee. This required investing in so called coffee washing stations to meet international quality standards. Thanks to this investment, they can produce better quality coffee that generates a higher income for them. Peter Mens, CEO of Rabobank Westfriesland - Oost, and his colleagues saw how these washing stations can make a huge difference for local coffee farmers: “Members of Bukonzo get a consistent and fair price for their coffee.  This is one of the advantages of  being a member. An important condition however is the quality of the coffee they sell to Bukonzo. The farmers are being trained to produce high quality coffee that meets the Bukonzo standard. For example, they have to learn only to pick the ripe berries, how to prune their coffee plants and how to fertilize their land.”

The group also visited several Bukonzo members on their coffee farms and talked about the advantages of their membership . A serious issue is, however,  the speed of payment after delivery of their coffee.  If the farmers do not get paid on time, they tend to sell their coffee to local buyers. These middle men pay much lower prices, but local farmers do not always have the luxury of being able to wait for a higher price from Bukonzo. Rabobank Foundation has provided Bukonzo with trade finance before and is willing to provide it with another loan in 2014. This will allow Bukonzo to provide instant payment to its farmers at the time of delivery.

The visit to Uganda was inspiring. As Peter Mens put it: “Seeing is believing.  It has been a great experience to get acquainted with this partner organization that of Rabobank Foundation. It feels like we are going back to Rabobank’s cooperative roots.  As always, people  achieve more when they work together. We will be proud to share our experiences with our colleagues and clients. ”

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