The revival of cooperative unions in the Rwenzori region is top on the list of demands of farmers presented to candidates vying for political office in region.
At the launch of the Citizens Manifesto for the Rwenzori region in Fort Portal town on Tuesday, the farmers under their umbrella, Rwenzori Farmers Network said that if any of the presidential candidates wins the elections, the first priority should be to revive the unions because agriculture is the backbone of the country.
In the 1970s and 80s, the cooperative unions were the lifeline of Ugandan farmers. 1986, when the ruling National Resistance Movement took power the economy was liberalized dealing a severe blow to the cooperatives.
In the Rwenzori region, some of the prominent ones were Bwamba Cooperative Union in Bundibugyo district for cocoa farmers, Kabarole Cooperative Union for coffee and Nyakatonzi in Kasese for cotton and coffee.
The farmers want the unions revived arguing that it will lead to the development of agriculture.
Joseph Mpamya, the chairperson of Rwenzori Farmers Network and a former member of Kabarole Cooperative Society says that if the cooperatives are revived, farmers will be able to have market for their products.
Mpamya also says that through the cooperatives, members can meet and share knowledge and ideas on how to improve socially and economically.
//Cue in: "I would want..."
Cue out: "...to advance."
Dorothy Natukunda, a rice farmer in Rwimi Sub County says that if the unions were in place, rice farmers wouldn't be cheated by middlemen because they would bargain collectively for the rise and reduction of the prices.
Natukunda also says that the Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCO) which were an alternative to the cooperative unions have failed to work effectively because there is no transparency.
She says that some farmers have failed to pay back the loans they acquired one year ago.
David Baluku a cocoa farmer from Bundibugyo district says that farmers do not have funds to purchase inputs like fertilizers and cocoa seeds and as a result, some farmers under the Bundibugyo Cocoa Farmers Association have abandoned cocoa growing.
He also says that if the cooperative unions existed, the farmers would be given the inputs at subsidized prices.