Give a person a fish and you will feed him or her for a day.
But if given the financial opportunity to build a fish pond, there’s the possibility of feeding a village — and more.
This is what Adele McGuire of Morell discovered when she and a team of seven other Canadian co-operator employees visited Uganda from Nov. 21 to Dec. 5 to learn about the Canadian Co-operators Association’s (CCA) Integrated Finance and Agricultural Production Initiative (IFAPI) model.
CCA and the Uganda Co-operative Alliance (UCA) have jointly developed this innovative approach to rural development to help to bring people from poverty to prosperity.
Through the IFAPI, members of the Ugandan credit unions, which are called SACCOs, can access affordable credit for projects, such as the construction of a pond in which fish could be raised for market.
“They drain it once the fish get big enough and then they gather them all up (to sell) and then they refill the pond. They got a loan to be able to fund doing all the (excavation) work and get the (equipment needed) because they have to have pumps to be able to pump the water back out,” says McGuire, who is manager of accounting and administration at Metro Credit Union in Charlottetown.
The Canadian team involved with the 2012 CCA/UCA’s Telling Our Story, Uganda project travelled to that African country to interview SACCO credit union members who have benefited from the program.
One example was a young man who had just earned his business degree but found himself without work once he came home from university.
“So he got a loan and bought a solar panel, which he hooked up to a (battery) board with a whole bunch of plugs and he charges to charge people’s cellphones. Everybody has a cellphone there,” McGuire says.
“After he had this for about three months he had made enough money to buy a computer. So now he downloads songs, puts them on memory sticks and sells those, too. Whatever they do, when they get some more money they want everything to grow. Everybody wants to grow their business.”
Such was the case with the fish pond which, when drained for the fish harvest, became the source of another marketable product.
“When they emptied it, they, of course, had all this clay and dirt and mud, so they actually have this brick-making business,” McGuire says.
The thick mud is packed into wooden boxes and baked in a type of kiln to form bricks.
Another enterprising entrepreneur had set up his solar-powered big screen television as an entertaining business prospect.
“He would charge for people to come in and watch sports, movies, whatever. It was like a little movie theatre,” says McGuire.
CCA/UCA-supported projects also make a difference in the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS, who are often shunned once their diagnosis becomes public knowledge.
Through their local SACCO, they receive financial support, guidance and training in arts and handcrafts that can be sold in the markets.
One woman, who took advantage of a credit union loan to start a small brewery in that community, is putting her six boys through school with the profits from her business.
Education is very important in Uganda.
“Everybody wants to send their kids to school, but schools are expensive for them. So they actually do loans for school fees. If you are asking what they want for their future, it’s school fees for their kids because they know that they need that education,” McGuire says.
Those loans can be in small amounts such as 50,000 shillings, which is about $20 US.
“And that’s huge for them to get that because the poverty line is about $1 US per day, and 25 per cent of the population lives below that,” she adds.
Through a local production co-op, the IFAPI also helps to provide farmers with training to help them to diversity and grow suitable crops for their land.
“Basically, they train farmers on best farming practices,” McGuire says.
“A lot of them say they (have achieved a) 300 per cent difference in revenues because of what they were taught. They teach business plans, money management. They go in and basically reteach them on how to run their business and get the best crops (through) changing in spacing and irrigation (for example).”
Through a local marketing co-op, the IFAPI also offers marketing services, such as bulking, which allows farmers to pool their crops to get better prices.
“So then big (companies) would come and buy it all.
“They’re not going to drive for miles to get your little (plot’s production) of corn. It’s not worth it to make that trip,” McGuire says.
UCA field officers also teach members about gender equality, domestic violence, alcoholism and more. The results of this aspect of education have been impressive.
Louise Odher, a widowed Ugandan farmer, said the promotion of gender equality has had a positive impact on women in the community.
“They do not fear things now,” she told her Canadian interview team.
CCA’s international development work is supported by donations to the Co-operative Development Foundation. Those funds allow CCA to access additional funds from the Canadian International Development Association.
After being involved with this project, McGuire was struck by how strong the Ugandan people are and their commitment to co-ops and co-operative values.
“They are so grateful for all the help they have received from the various co-operative organizations. Uganda is still in a (post-war) rebuilding mode, and they are determined to create a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. Seeing that, in light of the poverty that was very apparent all around us, people have faith, hope for the future and are so proud of every accomplishment,” she says.
“I think being involved with a project like this, you leave a little piece of your heart in Uganda. I am inspired to become more involved in international development. I will never forget the stories I heard, some so uplifting and inspiring, some would bring you to the verge of tears, but each and every one of those stories touches you in some way.”
AT A GLANCE
For more than 40 years, the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) has assisted co-operatives of all types and descriptions in over 30 countries (currently active in 15) through its International Development Program.
CCA is active in Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Development projects are designed and managed with the complete involvement of local co-operative partners.
Through co-operatives, CCA works to reduce poverty.
Its work helps people to provide themselves with food, with education, with shelter, and with higher levels of income.
For information, visit www.coopscanada.coop.