Why farming in Uganda is not growing as expected!
The Bitter reality of farming in Uganda/Africa
Fast forward, the start-up I pitched in January to Patrick was selected among the 1000 promising early stage start-ups (below 3 years) by the Tony Elumelu Foundation in March that year and I underwent a business training for 6 months winning a grant at the end of that. We started actual work in early 2019. A year that personally shaped my views today.
The key lessons I left the program with were adaptability and flexibility, 2 virtues I have since used in every product development I have been part, work engaged in and team been part of.
The oversight start-up only started making sense to my team and I after we used the grant money to carefully study the needs of the people in the agriculture sector in Uganda especially the busy people and the diaspora. Critically analysing what our target market really wanted was an uphill task that took over 6 months. And after these 6 months, the true SpringRise was born.
You notice I only mention SpringRise this late in the conversation because truth be told we did not have a company until we fully understood what our clients were facing. The sad reality however is that most farmers do not know that they face the challenges we discovered!
Below are the 2 major reasons why farming/agriculture in Uganda is not growing as expected. These 2 factors are interrelated, mastering (1) solves (2).
This is arguably the most important aspect of building a long lasting business. With systems the business can survive without you and thus its success is not in any way related to your location. This is what most African businesses fail to do!
Multinationals such as Coca cola and Pepsi for example began as small ideas. What has grown them into what they are today are systems. They can run production lines on all continents without any hitch. Systems act as the funnel, the guide and the map to the success of the company, however they take time to develop and we Africans are naturally impatient!
You Vs farm Location – This brings me to the easier option to replace Systems mainly for Africans/Ugandans. For your farm to succeed you have to make a tough choice between losing your time and losing your money! You either have to invest near you so that you can oversee operations at the farm effectively OR set up ways to be at your farm at least 3 out of seven days a week. If you cannot do any of the 2, please save your money and join an established system under which you can farm till you either have more time to oversee or more money to build the system. The same advice applies to investment clubs.
Many farmers I have met in my practice are excited to enter farming because of the cosmetic picture in the dailies of how easy and profitable farming is as well as the status accorded to being a farmer attracts in the recent past (reminds me of one who wanted to grow tilapia in 2 weeks!).
The sad reality however is that most people enrol when they are half-baked. Because of this we have many “modern subsistence farmers” investing loads of money but only harvesting food just enough for their families from a 5 to 10 acre piece of land! No wonder agriculture employs more than 70% of the population in Sub-Sahara Africa but contributes an unimpressive 25% to GDP or less!
Many farmers do not take the time to religiously follow up on the costs they have incurred from start to finish of the season otherwise most would have abandoned farming long ago. Take for example a farmer with 1 acre of matooke, 5 pigs/goats and 1 cow in Kayunga. He visits his farm once a week (which is not enough), burn over 50,000 Ugx in fuel and spend less than 2 hours on the farm. This farmer will most probably not take into consideration the fuel, wage tips, snacks etc. while calculating his profits. Chances are high he is farming for fun! I thus advise such to enrol into a combined/joint farming system where you can do away with oversight costs and only invest per unit of animals/plants you farm. Overtime you can grow your savings, experience and establish yourself in a bigger and better way. (Look out for my article comparing individual farming Vs Joint Farming). It is also important to note this can be solved with proper book keeping at the farm.
Many farm trainers train you how the plants/animals grow properly but forget the most important factor (system/your presence). The question each farmer (especially corporate class/diaspora) should ask themselves is how much time can I devote to my farm? Or Do I have enough money to pay a third-part manager to control my farm the way I would? If the answers to both these questions are No, you should look out for my article on Joint farming.