Kisoro - Four years ago, Eric Rukampena, a dairy farmer in the remote village of Rubuguri in Kisoro district used to lose ten litres of milk everyday. Without a ready market and facility to preserve it, Rukampena had two options: pour the milk after getting spoilt or give it away for free. But there's been a change of fortune for Rukampena since last year after UN's Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) bought and installed a cooling facility in Rubuguri.
"I earn Shs 600,000 every month from selling half of the milk I produce from my small farm," Rukampena, a father of nine, excitedly declares.
Rukampena is one of the 131 beneficiaries from FAO's intervention through the Rubuguri Dairy Farmers Association (RDFA). Apart from giving them the cooler, the UN agency has linked the farmers to direct buyers for milk and also worked with district authorities to avail extension services.
Dinah Rwenduru, 36, is another beneficiary of the project. The mother of four earns Shs 200,000 every month from selling four of the fourteen litres of milk from her two heifers. Before 2007, Rwenduru was a typical housewife who tended the garden and prepared meals for the family. Today, however, she supplements the income of her husband.
"We even have enough milk for home consumption so my children are healthier," Rwenduru, who practices zero grazing to feed the heifers, says.
As many as 131 households - each household consists of five people on average - have had their incomes and livelihoods improved, says Wilberforce Mucunguzi, the chairperson of RDFA. Last year, FAO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with local private milk processor, Birunga Dairy factory, to buy all the milk from Rubuguri farmers. According to statistics, Birunga buys 3000 litres of milk from RDFA every week. It was agreed every litre would be bought at a fixed price of Shs 400. Previously, farmers in Rubuguri used to sell the milk at a paltry Shs 200 per litre, and that is if they were lucky to get a buyer.
"Sometimes you would even plead with the buyer to take your milk on credit," recalls Rukampena.
Mucunguzi says the association makes between Shs 7m and Shs 8m every month. The money is deposited to each farmer's account (amounts correspondent with the litres of milk each farmer supplied) at their SACCO bank based in Rubuguri. A small service levy of Shs 20 is slapped on each litre of milk as a contribution from each farmer towards the operational costs of the association.
A farmer who produces an average of 20 litres per day earns close to Shs 1.7m per month while the least earner rakes in Shs 100,000. Mucunguzi says that members of the association have enough money to pay for their families' healthcare, school fees and other domestic needs.
With Rubuguri soon getting connected onto the national grid, RDFA leaders are optimistic that it will enhance the association's capacity to start processing milk on their own and export products to markets in neighbouring Rwanda and DR Congo. Patricia Nsiime, FAO's national project coordinator on food security in the Great Lakes region, notes that their successful intervention with Rubuguri farmers could inspire other stakeholders to take a similar path.
FAO has since 2007 invested heavily in food security interventions in the south western border districts of Kabale, Kisoro and Kasese. For the dairy project in Rubuguri, the UN agency has so far spent $34,000 (approximately Shs 85m) on buying the cooler, tank and truck for the association.
Despite FAO's interventions to equip the farmers with knowledge and improved methods of farming, there are serious gaps when it comes to disease outbreaks for dairy farmers in Rubuguri. For instance, there was a recent brucellosis (an infectious and fatal fever that kills both animals and people) attack that left as many as 15 animals infected. The district has limited veterinary services.