•Christine committed herself and for the first time, started earning her money to support all financial needs of her family.
•However, after sometime of working for the company, conflicts arose and the company closed down rendering her and other employees jobless.
Christine Muga was a housewife who depended on her husband for all her financial needs. The situation, however, took a different turn when her husband died.
That is the time she thought of an economic activity she would engage in to earn some income to support her four children. Fortunately, she landed a job in one of the coffee companies in Uganda.
“I lost the father to my children sometime back. I had to step into his shoes as the sole family provider,” she says of the difficulties she went through as a single mother.
Playing the father-mother responsibility, Christine committed herself and for the first time, started earning her money to support all financial needs of her family. However, after sometime of working for the company, conflicts arose and the company closed down rendering her and other employees jobless.
She then took advantage of the skills and knowledge she had acquired from the coffee company and started, Mount Elgon Women in Speciality Coffee Limited.
With over a decade in operation, Mount Elgon Women in Speciality Coffee Limited has since grown and is currently working with 15 farmer groups and a total number of 658 farmers, all of whom are situated along the slopes of Mount Elgon.
“Being women, poverty level was so high. We agreed to go into coffee business together as a way of fighting poverty. We do processing, packaging and exporting of our Arabica coffee from Uganda,” she said.
Christine is the current managing director of Mount Elgon Women in Speciality Coffee Limited. She says that they usually plant in the month of April when there are rains and harvest annually. With Mount Elgon stretching to both Kenya and Uganda, Christine says that they are looking forward to having women coffee entrepreneurs in the whole of East Africa.
“Coffee is a cash crop and we consume it locally and export it to the world market. We are still trying to see on how we can legalize our partnership and soon or later we are coming to Kenya to support our farmers in Kenya,” she says.
Even though Christine is happy with the progress women coffee farmers in her network are making, she reckons that climate change has become a huge challenge. For example, she says the last season was a bad one for them due to a prolonged drought.
“As I speak now, some of the coffee trees are drying and we are thinking of networking with other partners on how our farmers can be helped with irrigation schemes to sustain their agricultural activities,” she notes.
Research has shown that prolonged drought affects the production of coffee and encourages pests and diseases. While environmental conservationists encourage planting of many trees to act as water catchment, Christine says that in her community, there is a lot of cutting of trees. This she says has led to the delayed rainfall and affects coffee production.
She says they are currently implementing biogas construction for their communities so that they stop or reduce cutting the trees for firewood. According to her, utilizing biogas is also good for women because it sorts the issue of firewood they use to cook and allow them have enough time to work on their coffee farms. Christine also says that during the implementation of their respective programs, they are also encouraging the women members to do savings and credit or table banking.
“You know women go long journeys to get firewood but with these biogas digesters they now have clean energy in the house and they would have enough time to go to their gardens. Remember, women are the ones producing 80 per cent of labour force,” she says of their problem solving innovation.
Christine also attends workshops for entrepreneurs. For example, she recently attended a training dubbed Rising Women Initiative, a partnership whose objective include providing a platform for business growth, showcasing women in business, providing financial solution and exposing them to world-class business practice.
“I have learnt a lot. Kenyan women are so business oriented and already we want to network with them, we come and establish businesses here, they also come and we see how we can work out in Uganda,” she shares her learning experience.
Sarah Karingi, a business coach and mentor who is also a trainer in business networking says networking is great for the growth of women in business like Christine. She says that through creating contacts, the women entrepreneurs can easily reach their experts on respective social media platforms like LinkedIn.
“Women are coming up very well in business and I’m very proud of that because many years back, women were not allowed to do business. Business is about taking risks and even if you lose money you should try again because it is in failing that you succeed,” Sarah said.
Nelson Mburu from True North Group Africa, an organization connecting entrepreneurs across Africa says there is need to break down the border barriers to allow intra trade within the continent. He describes women as teachable and quick learners who are easy to adopt new methods and so organizing training for them help them to learn from their peers.
“When I look at women I’ve taught and trained, they ask how they can implement the new ideas they learn. As I pursue the agenda of African trade, women tend to be quick catalysts,” says Mburu.
Speaking during a training attended by different women entrepreneurs in Nairobi, Mburu said that for the last four years, he has brought about 40 entrepreneurs to Kenya to learn from their peers. The program targets women entrepreneurs in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and East Africa entrepreneurs.
“When I put ten dollars in the hands of women, it will benefit a hundred people compared to if the same amount is put in the hands of men. That is the reason I have a bias to women, because they nurture more people than men,” he said.