Drive to revive Teso cooperative union
Posted Wednesday, March 20 2013 at 00:00
At its peak, the Teso Cooperative Union provided a market for produce and means of livelihood for thousands in the region. After being in limbo for decades, a group of people who experienced the benefits of a cooperative have mobilised themselves to revive it.
For close to three decades, Teso Cooperative Union (TSU) was a bastion of booming agricultural business in the region but it is a shadow of its former self. Its buildings are dilapidated and inhabited by bats and rodents.
The huge stores and ginning machines are no more; the only visible remnants are skeletons of metallic carts and rusted chassis of what used to be a fleet of trucks that brought in cotton from the ginneries.
“After that toil of three to four months in the fields, the farmers had a compensating element; the lucrative cotton price,” reminisces William Ekesu, who once served as union clerk. “It’s here that the cotton produced in metric tonnes across the region was turned into lint before being shipped to Liverpool in UK,” recounts a 90-year-old Mzee Ekesu.
Expertise and assistance
Said to have started in 1954, the current state of the union has driven these and others who enjoyed the benefits in its heydays to work out ways of reviving the cooperative.
“We cannot wait anymore, its incumbent upon us to revamp this asset,” explains Valentine Eketu, chairperson heading the revival process. He says Swedish Co-operative Centre (SCC) has offered support the effort by rendering technical expertise and some financial assistance to revamp the union headquarters and affiliated ginneries numbering over 200 across the region.
TCU was active in the period from the 1950S to the 1980s, with its performance peaking in 1970s when Bangladesh and Indonesia expressed interests in Ugandan cotton to warrant high production and ginning.
Its activities dwindled with the advent of political turmoil in the mid-1980s, which dealt a heavy blow to the thriving business.
Property was lost as machines and equipment fell in the wrong hands, every valuable asset was vandalised, as union officials and farmers took refugee elsewhere. The union was completely abandoned–and largely forgotten by government ever since.
Eketu says their first step is reviving the primary cooperative societies by distributing cotton seeds free of charge to the farmers. That is before refurbishment of the aging physical structures and fixing the machinery. “When this is successful, then we shall start buying cotton, at the same time diversify to growing other factory-oriented crops to spur up a complete recovery.”
However, there are concerns about the current squabbles over the vast chunks of land belonging to the union. Some of which have been grabbed over the years.
To this day, the stories of TCU by those who experienced it at its height is that the union was pivotal in education in Teso. “It’s the cotton it processed that educated the prominent people region,” Mzee Samson Okorio narrates.
He adds that besides parents being able to send their children to the then prominent schools in the area like Ngora High School and Teso College Aloet, it also enabled the repayment of a loan from Bugisu Cooperative Union for partly building Teso College.
“Whenever, I see the union in this state, it reawakens the nostalgic memories of the past,” he says.
Okorio explains that compared to then, the farmers in the region are virtually at the mercy of produce profiteers, who fix prices at their wish. This is while the crop producers are left in speculative mood of what the prices would be like the next day.
Besides, rendering what was a lucrative price for their cotton and groundnuts, the union at its peak had over 1,000 fully employed workers. As there is the move to revive TCU, it is noteworthy that some cooperative unions have been turned to a vote lobbying tools, which has hardly brought any benefit.