They say that the key to a successful organization is good leadership. Catherine Nakibuule (38), from Nakaseke District in Central Uganda embodies just that. Over the years due to her integrity, commitment, and positive attitude, she has been very successful in various leadership roles. Not only is Catherine the Woman District Councillor in the Nakaseke District local government, but she is also the Chairperson of Semuto Coffee Farmer’s Cooperative Society LTD. After being recently elected, Catherine has taken the cooperative to the next level. This is her inspiring leadership journey…
From Hardship to Hope
At the age of 12, Catherine was unfortunately orphaned after the untimely passing of both her parents. Thereafter, she found herself living with her aunt who tried to educate her. However, at the age of 16, Catherine’s aunt who had been her guardian also passed away in a car accident.
Despite this adversity and the fact that Catherine no longer had the financial support to attend school, she kept hope alive that she would still make something of herself. Although she lacked the qualifications to begin a career, Catherine knew there was potential in agriculture. So, using the land that she inherited from her parents after they passed away, she began farming maize, beans, bananas, and coffee for cash and food.
From Student to Teacher
Fast-forward to 2010, Catherine had gotten married and had children. Her husband who owned a motorcycle taxi had provided Catherine with more land from his own inheritance. With that, she was able to expand their family farming business. This enabled them to make enough money to educate their children and they soon became well-respected coffee farmers. For this reason, they were among the farmers that were mobilized to participate in the International Coffee Partners (ICP) project which is implemented by Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS).
Catherine, her husband and their youngest children
Through her diligent application of the improved farm management practices that she learned in the ICP project’s training, Catherine was able to improve the production and quality of her family’s 1.5-acre coffee farm. Over time, her exemplary farm and ability to inspire others made it easy for HRNS’ field officers to select her to become a Farmer Field School (FFS) Facilitator. This meant she was responsible for holding meetings where she would educate other coffee farmers on improved farm management practices.
In 2010, the ICP project supported the farming community in Semuto Sub-county to form farmer organizations of about 30 members. The Farmer Organization elected their own leadership and to no one’s surprise, Catherine was assigned the roles of Lead Farmer and Sustainability Officer. In these capacities, she trained other farmers on good agricultural practices and the safe use and handling of agrochemicals.
From Farmer Organization to Cooperative
In 2012, ICP supported several farmer organizations (of about 30 members) in Semuto Sub-county to combine and register as a cooperative. Currently, the Semuto Cooperative has 321 members (195 women and 126 men). Unlike a farmer organization, a cooperative is licensed to bulk and sell its coffee. By doing so, farmers can receive more beneficial prices and terms because, with larger volumes of coffee, they can directly access export markets instead of going through middlemen.
The cooperative also plays a major role in linking farmer organizations to genuine input suppliers/government subsidies, value addition/agro-processing facilities and marketing. With good leadership, cooperatives can also tackle other issues in the community like poverty, unemployment, sanitation and hygiene, gender inequality, environmental sustainability and the HIV/AIDS and malaria epidemics.
When Catherine joined the cooperative, she was heavily involved in educating members on environmental sustainability and health. As part of the Semuto Sub-county Village Health Team (VHT) she leads advocacy surrounding sanitation and regularly provides first-aid at the local health centre. In June 2022 she was recognize for her work to champion sustainability during the Nakaseke district’s World Environment Day celebrations.
Catherine and Semuto Cooperative members during World Environment Day celebrations in Nakaseke district
From One Development Phase to Another
It is not difficult to see why during the cooperative’s recent 2022 elections; Catherine was voted as their new Chairperson. She is currently serving her two-year term. So far under her strong leadership, the cooperative has greatly improved and moved from one phase of Development to the next. As one of the objectives of ICP in Uganda in the current project phase is to strengthen about 12 cooperatives in three districts across Central Uganda, we have been closely monitoring their progress. Our internal assessment that took place in July 2022 found that Semuto is the cooperative that improved the most since the initial assessment at the beginning of the project (see figure 1 and 2 below.)
Catherine’s vision for the Cooperative is that they buy land and build their own office so they can move out of the small office they are renting. Thereafter she wants them to construct an agro-processing facility so they can add value to their coffee. For herself, Catherine also has big dreams – one of which she has already achieved by breaking the cycle of no/minimal education in her family. Currently, her firstborn son is in university studying to become an engineer and her second-born daughter is studying nursing. The younger children are still in primary and secondary school.
We are excited to see the next chapters unfold in Catherine’s inspiring leadership journey.
"For me, my dream is to go back to school and finish my education, then become a Member of Parliament."