A retired teacher is changing the agricultural landscape among farmers with his heightened efforts of championing value addition through village-based cooperatives helping tame post-harvest losses and triple earnings among farmers.
Inspired by the need to change the livelihoods of most small-scale farmers who are exposed to shocks of demand and supply Bwowe John Chris and his colleague Charles Lutwama teamed up to provide viable solutions to farmers. Bwowe is a retired primary school teacher but has undergone training at the Uganda Institute of Research where he acquired skills in dairy, fruit, and other food processing skills.
For the duo to realize their dream, they set up African Strategies Rural Development with the sole mandate of championing the spirit of cottage industries in villages to enhance value addition and therefore help farmers get a better bargain for their produce. “We have seen many government efforts come and go in the form of overrated programs like National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) among others. They end up being more of theory and being championed by people who are not passionate about transforming the livelihoods of farmers but more keen on tapping the fat budgets that are pumped into such initiatives. At the end of the day, the farmer is left in the same spot with almost zero change whereas the reports in Kampala indicate a different story,” noted Bwowe.
According to Bwowe, they have interacted with farmers for over a decade and therefore are endowed with experience on what is exactly needed by most farmers in rural Uganda. I have both technical and theoretical skills in different fields including briquette machinery fabrication and making of the briquettes, juice making, tomato sauce making, banana and pumpkin crisp making among others. The duo trains both farmers and organizations including schools interested in adopting skills and setting up small cottage industries. “We offer the necessary consultancy services right from the primary stage to the tertiary. For instance, we advise the farmers on the best crops to plant in their respective regions, available markets, and machinery required for processing the harvest and even how to operate it.”
The training is done only for the farmers that are organised under groups because according to Bwowe, these are more manageable than dealing with individual farmers. In addition, these farmers are also able to raise small facilitation fees for the training and machinery by being together as a group. The knowledge and machinery are paid for by the farmers as Bwowe noted we encourage farmers to desist from free handouts as these do not empower people in the long run. “For instance currently the government is running the free distribution of coffee seedlings, but most farmers who have received the seedlings have either abandoned them or care less about them simply because they were given freely.”
Currently over ten groups of farmers from different regions in Uganda have been trained. One of the beneficiary groups of farmers is located in Kayunga district. The group has over 30 members and was trained by ASTRIDE, they have been actively involved in the processing of pumpkin into various products. For instance, they process the pumpkin fruit into crisps that earn farmers close to triple what they did before.
Their involvement in the value addition initiative is already changing tides for them. Given that the group acquired the machinery through the help of the duo at a cost of Ush2.5million, in one season alone, the farmers have been able to clear their soft loan. In addition, they are also processing produce for non-members at a low fee, and therefore Lutwama Charles noted that the whole community is benefitting from that venture alone.