Co-ops tipped on transformation through agricultural tourism

Mengya Cooperative Society members embark on their journey to Murchison (Kabalega) National Park. PHOTO URN

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Uhuru Institute for Social Development is rallying cooperatives to invest in tourism as a way of diversifying and increasing their incomes. This move also has the objective of growing Uganda’s domestic tourism as well as promoting agro-tourism.

Leonard Okello, the Chief Executive Officer at the Institute says this was one of the reasons that they decided on a fully paid trip for the most innovative cooperative society, to one of the top tourism centres in the country.

Okello said this is expected to open up opportunities for the societies that, after appreciating the tourist attractions in Kabalega Falls National Park Kiryandongo district, can find a way of developing an integrated agricultural/tourism project.

This will then be used as a pilot project and to attract others to do similar projects and activities in their areas, according to Okello, who said it was high time that cooperatives ventured into modern and nontraditional activities, and not just agriculture.

Okello committed that the institute will continue helping the cooperatives to ensure that they become major contributors to the country’s economic growth. He said that with the large number of cooperative societies and the large membership, there was high potential to lead the transformation of the country if they embraced agro-based tourism.

The institute last month announced Mengya Integrated Farmers Cooperative Society as the winner of the inaugural Coop360 Innovation Awards aimed at promoting innovative management approaches in the cooperative movement.

It followed a study which otherwise revealed that most of them were still largely stuck with the ancient ways, including poor record-keeping, lack of accountability in management, as well as lack of diversification.

The society located in Kween District in the mountainous Sebei region primarily grows Irish potatoes but have in recent years started value addition and marketing the various potato products.

But their winning innovation was the irrigation system that uses gravitational force to supply water in the area, which otherwise faces long drought spells.

The Cooperative Society’s General Manager, Moses Kiptala appreciated the availability of opportunities in agro-tourism, saying they will use the experience from the west to open up ventures in the east. He was excited that having access to tourist areas was another opportunity to market their Irish potato products like crisps and others.

Uganda Tourism Board has been pushing for agriculture tourism as one of the products that could grow the sector faster, consider that the whole country is agricultural.

This is where farmers develop their farms into tourist centres with the crops they grow being the primary attraction, and supplemented with extras like food grown, prepared and consumed on the farm, cultural exhibitions like dances, a month others.

Simplicious Gessa, the head of communications at UTB added that if cooperatives fully embraced agro tourism, it would go a long way in improving their incomes by turning their projects into model farms.

Gessa also dreams of a situation where domestic tourism Cooperatives would boost domestic tourism, which would reduce the overreliance on the foreign visitor segment with all its vulnerabilities.

He gave the example of Kenya’s tourism sector which easily survived the COVID-19 pandemic because of the strong domestic segment. Unfortunately, according to him, Ugandans have little information on how cheap visiting the tourist areas in Uganda is.

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