Access to finance rescues farmers during COVID-19

15 May 2020
ITC News

A Ugandan enterprise helps communities of farmers to overcome the effects of coronavirus.

The magic of starting small

"Back in 2017, we had no financial assets. All we had was a motivated workforce and high quality coffee," Nimrod Wambette recalled the early days.

Founder and Chairman of Mount Elgon Agroforestry Communities Cooperative Enterprise Ltd (MEACCE), he is proud of their signature product: specialty Arabica coffee.

All the coffees of this Ugandan enterprise are Fairtrade and Organic certified and the cherries are hand-picked by farmers, who receive a premium on their products. MEACCE collects the coffee from the cooperatives, processes and exports it.

Their mission is to improve the livelihoods and communities of their members through promoting their agroforestry products. The enterprise counts 3,664 member farmers, registered in 11 cooperatives spread on the slopes of Mount Elgon, in Eastern Uganda.

Upholding obligations during COVID-19

At the end of March, when many countries across the African continent went into lockdown to contain the spread of COVID- 19, MEACCE faced its own set of challenges.  With public transport interrupted and private mobility drastically affected, continuing with past practices and resources was no longer possible.

However, MEACCE continued delivering coffee to overseas customers. It is a remarkable achievement for the enterprise amid all the uncertainty.

Access to finance does the trick

It all began last year when working capital was short for pre-financing coffee procurement from farmers. MEACCE presented a business plan to various financial institutions. They were successful with Root Capital, an investor based in Kenya who found the business plan convincing enough to mobilise USD 150,000 as working capital.

It was participation in the Market Access Upgrade Programme (MARKUP) training and coaching on access to finance that enabled MEACCE to prepare its business plan for potential investors.

"Through the access to finance coaching, we gained knowledge about finance which helped us become a strong sustainable business," said a relieved Nimrod Wambette.

The access to working capital from Root Capital proved to be crucial support for MEACCE in braving the COVID-19 storm by completing their contractual obligations.

The enterprise is planning to use the remaining funds from the loan to pay the farmers back and prepare another container.

Although Nimrod Wambette is concerned about inevitable delays in completing transactions, he is happy that the empowered farmers within the cooperative will support each other during these tough times.

Market Access Upgrade Programme 

MEACCE received support from the Market Access Upgrade Programme (MARKUP). MARKUP is a regional development initiative conceived by the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat in partnership with the European Union (EU) and implemented by various agencies, including the International Trade Centre (ITC) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The MARKUP aims to increase exports of agribusiness and horticultural products and promote regional integration and access to the European market by addressing specific challenges that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Trade and Investment Support Institutions (TISIs) and policy-makers face in accessing regional and EU export markets.