Sowing the seeds of success in Africa
Another Traidlinks-backed project in the pipeline involves the Healy Group, an Irish food ingredient importer and distributor. Chief executive Maurice Healy says the group is looking at the potential of cassava, a crop grown throughout the horn of Africa. In particular, it is examining its use as an ingredient in bread for coeliacs.
“Cassava is a nutritious and widely used crop. In Nigeria, there is a government requirement to use a certain percentage of cassava in bread. We’re working with the Ugandan government to try and introduce a similar system there, which would encourage local farmers to direct their crops into milling.”
Already, bread manufacturers in Ireland, such as Gallaghers in Donegal, import cassava from other parts of the world for use in speciality breads.
These initiatives undertaken by Devenish, the Healy Group and companies like Country Crest, are part of a broader strategy spearheaded by Traidlinks to scale-up agricultural production in the area. The agency has recently completed the development of an enterprise centre in Hoima, in conjunction with Tullow Oil, which aims to encourage farmers to develop their products to export- standard.
With Tullow Oil set to embark on major oil exploration activity in western Uganda over the next few years, the aim of the centre is to leverage the local economic benefits of the oil industry. The hope is that farmers will supply the expected influx of oil workers with food products. Once the project is completed, it is envisaged that local production will be scaled up so locally-produced products can be exported.
Crucial to this is ensuring that local products are produced to Western standards, including processing and packaging, which will help them access new markets. Working with the local farmer groups, such as the Hoima District Farmers Association (HDFA), product is now sent to the Hoima enterprise centre, where it is washed, packaged and presented. Paul Kasaija is positive about the new supply system, pointing out that farmers are receiving a fair price- and are paid on time.
His views are shared by the other farming co-ops and organisations in the area.
Charles Kasangaki is the head of HDFA. An articulate and experienced farmer representative, he outlines the main challenges facing local farmers – small shareholdings, volatile prices and dismal infrastructure and transport, which cripples trade.
As we talk about the issues facing farmers, our conversation turns to Ireland. How has Ireland moved away from a subsistence-based farming system, he asks.
“Exports, and added-value products,” I explain. “Yes, but the European farmer is also subsidised,” he smiles. “For the African farmer, it is hard to compete.”
Suzanne Lynch travelled to Uganda with the support of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund