Sowing the seeds of success in Africa
Central to this is agriculture. Famously described by Winston Churchill as “the pearl of Africa”, Uganda is an astonishingly green and fertile country. Favourable soil conditions and climate – the country has two rainy seasons each year – makes it highly conducive to crop production, with coffee, tea, corn, sweet potatoes and fruit among the main food crops.
But while farming dominates activity in rural areas, most agricultural production remains at a subsistence level.
One Irish agency trying to challenge the predominant economic model underpinning agricultural production in Africa, and particularly Uganda, is Traidlinks. Established to engage the Irish business community to support business development in Africa, the agency helps farmers and local producers to develop their businesses as a way of gaining access to local, regional and international markets. Central to this is encouraging Irish businesses to mentor farmers in the area.
Paul Kasaija is one successful local farmer who has taken part in a Traidlinks mentoring programme. After training as a lawyer, Paul decided to return to the family farm in western Uganda. The 18-acre enterprise cultivates pineapples, small crops and has a pig breeding business. By Ugandan standards, it’s a medium-sized farm which is on a growth trajectory.
“We have two pineapple crops a year, and our pig breeding business is expanding,” he tells me as we walk around his farm a few miles outside the village of Hoima, in the western part of the country.
Key to the farm’s development has been its relationship with Irish company Devenish Nutrition. The Belfast-based business, which specialises in nutritional products for livestock producers, has been working closely with Kasaija on the pig side of the business. As Michael Maguire explains, his connection with Africa stretches back to the mid-1980s, when he worked as a farm manager in eastern Uganda. Two decades later he became involved with Traidlinks. “What we’re trying to do is give some advice and practical knowledge to farmers. Uganda has huge potential and farmers are crying out for some technical back-up and basic management and advice.”
Maguire has been working closely with Kasaija providing nutritional advice. “The main knowledge gap is the nutritional aspect of producing livestock. Animals are protein deficient. So animals will be fed enough that they’re kept alive, but they are under nourished.”
Kasaija has incorporated some of the nutritional advice into his feeding patterns. Devenish, in conjunction with Traidlinks, plans to hire a full-time employee from Ireland to work on placement in Hoima for two years. An abandoned pig unit is being reactivated as a focal point for the project.
“We’re planning on setting up a model farm, where local farmers will be trained in nutrition and basic animal husbandry,” says Maguire. “The idea is that farmers will actually see the effect that adopting a proper nutritional system can have on the animals.”