Digitalizing the Ugandan Cooperative Sector for a Coordinated Development Response

November 4, 2021

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A picture of a farm with digital icons above it

This post was originally posted on the SCOPEinsight website.

National governments in emerging markets struggle to understand their cooperative sector’s needs. Often, they resort to lengthy studies which provide a glimpse of the sector for that given moment. Because of this, policy can derive from studies conducted several years ago. Governments also have a limited capacity to coordinate sectoral responses with donors. The Ugandan Government via the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC) sought to break this pattern by giving cooperatives a digital identity. This allows all stakeholders working with these cooperatives can see the particular needs of the cooperative and respond accordingly. Digitizing the cooperatives gives the governments an advantage by allowing them to gauge the sector’s needs themselves and develop supportive policies around them.

The cooperative sector in Uganda

In Uganda, agricultural cooperatives have a long and tumultuous history. Recently, however, there has been an uptick in cooperative membership and impact. Among the most prevalent types of cooperatives are Savings and Credit Co-operatives (SACCOs) and Agricultural Marketing cooperatives. While these cooperatives have great potential to help farmers and the agricultural sector, they also face many challenges, often related to governance and financial management. These challenges make it difficult for the cooperatives to reach their full potential.

The Ugandan Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC) works to fulfil its vision of “sustainable cooperatives, competitive trade, and world class industrial products and services” in Uganda. One of the ways MTIC does this is through supporting existing cooperatives and promoting them within the agricultural sector. MTIC’s other functions include creating relevant policy, monitoring cooperatives, mobilizing resources for support, and collecting pertinent information to use for decision making. Thus, it is very important that MTIC has thorough knowledge of the overall state of the cooperative sector.

Assessing a cooperative landscape

The newest assessment tool at SCOPEinsight, the SCOPE Rapid, is the perfect way to address MTIC’s needs. The tool is designed to be used at scale to collect basic information about an entire agricultural sector. It consists of a short questionnaire and some background information, which takes a data collector approximately one and a half hours to collect. This information gives an idea of the general state of all assessed agribusinesses, which can lead to future segmentation, project design, or policy creation. If a vast number of cooperatives across a sector are assessed, then the information provides a panoramic view of the entire cooperative landscape. Thanks to the speed of the assessment, the high-quality data is available in a timely manner.

Using the SCOPE Rapid to support MTIC

As a pilot for the SCOPE Rapid, we have been working with MTIC, as well as other actors like AgriterraRikolto, and the National Alliance of Agricultural Co-operatives in Uganda (NAAC), to assess over 260 agricultural cooperatives and farmer organizations across Uganda and create a national database. The project is partially funded by AMEA, in partnership with IFAD, as part of its on-going investment to support smallholder farmers through professional farmer organizations.

The results of these assessments will provide many insights into the current agricultural cooperative landscape. This will inform MTIC on policy decisions and help create a framework for future work. The results will also enhance collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, which has adopted a farmer organization approach to support farmers in Uganda. Beyond the government approaches, Rikolto and Agriterra can also use this information. It will help them develop plans for capacity building for the cooperatives that have the most potential for growth. It will also enable national-level farmer organizations like NAAC to understand better the capacity needs of their members and guide training approaches.

For the information collected to be useful and actionable, it is important that it is displayed in an easy-to-understand manner. Our Business Intelligence team has created a dashboard for the pilot project that will organize the data and make it easily comprehensible. This way, the data gathered from the over 260 assessed cooperatives can be collected in one place and displayed in a cohesive, intuitive dashboard.

Early returns and future plans

So far, the assessments have already provided some initial insights into Ugandan cooperatives. For example, they have been able to identify some so-called “briefcase organizations” that do not physically exist. While full results cannot be seen until the assessments are all completed, the data collected already looks very promising.

The next step for this project will be to segment the cooperatives based on the results of the assessments. This segmentation will make it clear to MTIC where help is most needed. This information can then inform future policy decisions and organize future support. It will also allow Rikolto, NAAC, and Agriterra to conduct follow-up SCOPE Basic and SCOPE Pro assessments. The results from the SCOPE Rapid will show which cooperatives will benefit the most from which assessment tool. This additional initial step will ensure that the cooperatives assessed with the more in-depth tools are at the proper level of maturity to truly benefit from the intervention.

Are you interested in helping strengthen government's capacity to address the needs of cooperatives in their country? Contact us today to find out how to do this in way which has impact well beyond the life of the project.