Most people in Western Uganda are farmers, dependent on the land and predictable weather patterns for their livelihoods. But climate change has led to unpredictable weather and increased natural disasters. Intense floods have caused mudslides that devastate farmland, while extreme droughts have dried out coffee berries, affecting crop yields, coffee quality, and, ultimately, the income of farming families.
“At the end of the day you find every challenge overwhelming. Right now we are seeing a lot of drought.”-Josinta Kabugho, General Manager of Bukonzo Organic Farmers Cooperative Union
In response, Bukonzo Organic Farmers Cooperative Union is using credit and training from Root Capital to help its farmers become more resilient to climate impacts. Bukonzo was formed in 2009, linking 12 local coffee cooperatives with international specialty markets where their certified organic and Fair Trade coffee can sell at a premium price.
General Manager of Bukonzo Organic Farmers Cooperative Union, Josinta Kabugho, is a rarity: a woman managing a business within the highly male-dominated agricultural sector. Josinta knows the impacts of climate change firsthand, as do the 1,260 women members of Bukonzo, who have less access to money, resources, and training to build climate resilience than male farmers.
“We need buffer zones to make sure the practices of non-organic farmers do not affect the soil and crops of nearby organic farms. There are different activities that require a lot of money. Women have lower sources of income, so it takes them longer to invest in these practices because they have to do it on their own.”-Josinta Kabugho, General Manager of Bukonzo Organic Farmers Cooperative Union
Building Climate Resilience
Fortunately, Bukonzo is there to help women members invest in climate resilience. The cooperative has planted 96,000 shade trees so far, which helps the soil retain more water and provides shade for coffee crops in the face of rising temperatures. Bukonzo is also building awareness of climate change and teaching farmers how they can adapt.
As general manager, Josinta understands that women farmers need tailored support. The cooperative has created group lending associations where women can not only access small loans, but also share farming tips and jointly solve challenges impacting their crops. Bukonzo is also giving farmers the resources needed to keep bees and grow passion fruit in order to diversify their incomes.
Josinta’s vision of Bukonzo includes 5,000 organic and fair trade farmers by 2026. She also plans to continue to empower women farmers:
“Because women are prone to different challenges, we want to increase the number of women farmers. We want to start ‘Woman Coffee’ so women are more motivated and men are encouraged to give land to the women because of the premium women will get.”
Root Capital’s Support
Many climate resilience projects require an upfront capital investment. For example, to implement a shade tree project, cooperatives need money to purchase and distribute the seedlings. However, it can be very difficult for a small business in a remote rural area, like Bukonzo, to access loans–both in general and specifically for climate projects. Only 1.7 percent of global climate financing goes to small-scale agriculture, despite it being central to climate solutions.
Root Capital’s credit and capacity-building services have ensured that the cooperative’s farmers can earn a steady income while preserving the surrounding ecosystem. Since 2020, Root Capital has provided Bukonzo with $1.5 million in credit, as well as training. The advisory services that Bukonzo has received to date include Climate Adaptation Planning, Climate Resilience Diagnostic, Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment, Business Management, and Digital Business Intelligence. Bukonzo also participated in Root Capital’s Talent Partnerships program, which places young graduates into internships at local agricultural enterprises, creating a win/win situation: jobs for the next generation and a stronger talent pool for rural businesses.
As climate change worsens, vulnerable ecosystems in Western Uganda and elsewhere will come under even more pressure. While their footprint is small, Josinta and the Bukonzo Organic Farmers Cooperative Union are on the front lines of the fight to preserve our planet. With Root Capital’s credit and capacity-building support, designed to provide women farmers with the resources they need, these hardworking farmers will have a more prosperous and resilient future.