Uganda in Need of AgriTech Innovators

In Uganda, farmers like Health Professionals are some of the most battle hardened professionals who keep enduring injustice after injustice but stick to their chosen path. While we enjoy those sumptuous meals in the confines of our homes or restaurants, we should think about how much of what we are paying actually goes back to the farmer.

Middlemen are to farmers what Tom is to Jerry in the cartoon. The statements that follow capture actual experiences of highly educated farmers as they try to access markets.

Farmer1: I sold cassava and this middleman packed cassava like hell, I expected to get more bags but ended up with six sacks, yet i would have benefited more

Friend: You did not tell him the amount of the cassava to put in the bag?

Farmer1: You can’t dictate them what to do, middlemen !!!! I hate

Friend: Knowing what you know now, how different do you plan to handle the situation in future?

Farmer1: Next sale i will go to Kalerwe (A market in one of Kampala’s suburbs). Hire a boy and sell off my truck period

Farmer2: I chose to sell passion fruit directly to customers and have done so for now a year. Very ok. But on one occasion I allowed a middleman to pack from the farm. The guy even undressed and remained in a ka tight boxer just to pack as much as he could. I got less for a 140kg bag than I get for 100kgs. Issue is how perishable are your goods? How desperate are u to sell.

Farmer3: I sold sweet potatoes about 3 years ago and swore never to plant them again … same story+transport. If u don’t have your own transport it will be hard to get good market

Farmer4: There’s a middleman who bought my pig at a give away price. I nearly chopped him as he left my farm. Nabagoba !! (I chased them).

Farmer5: Me I sold my first melon to a middle man so cheaply, guy took them and met him in the market selling them double price

Farmer6: After raising my first flock of chicken for about 5 months I went out to the market with my first egg trays to Owino. I was skinned bare … sold a tray at 4000/=(UGX) and made a loss of 2500/=(UGX) per tray

Farmer7: We planted beans and decided to sell them fresh. A few days to harvesting, we called a middleman and agreed on a price per bag. However the day we harvested, when they were packed, the dude told my colleague half the earlier agreed price nti sibilungi (that they aren’t good). My colleague told him “ensawo zileke awo ngya zitekako abantu bazikume paka bwezivunda.”(Leave the bags there, I’ll get guards to watch over them till the beans rot)

A farmer’s effort to avoid middlemen

Now these are real life situations we’re talking about. I appreciate the efforts that have gone into coming up with Technology Innovations aimed at market access for farmers. However, it is very clear already that either they aren’t known to the farmers or have been of minimal impact when implemented.

Many Technology innovators are targeting the urban elite and expect to rake loads of income through sorting out their needs. However, a little thinking with a Giraffe’s eye view could easily set one apart from the sea of wannabe innovators. Without doubt, Agriculture is the bedrock of this nation of ours Uganda. Employing 70% of the population, ignore this industry at your own peril. As promotion of food production efforts yield fruit, market access and value addition are starting to take center stage.

What is the role IT can play in all this? How can we help reduce the frustration these farmers face getting their produce to market? How can we link them up with the eventual consumer if possible? How do we tap into the elite market of consumers that craves healthy, organic and natural foods lately? Therein lies a big opportunity.

Can the middleman of tomorrow be a spectacle wielding geek seated in the confines of their bedroom with a mere internet connection and laptop? Imagine organising an open air “fresh from farm” roadside market and reaching out to potential customers using technology based options. How about a European buyer of Chilli being able to monitor the progress of the crop right from the time it’s growing on the farm to the day of export?

One of the most active Agriculture oriented online communities in Uganda is the AgriProfocus Portal which is a network that offers a central place for organisations, professionals and agri-businesses to meet, do business and share resources and knowledge. There are other farmer networks utilising alternatives like Whatsapp already to share information, knowledge, help out one another as well as aggregate resources.

As technology innovators continue shunning this industry, it’s making its own efforts to reach out to technology and demanding for solutions. Already there are discussions on the Agribusiness Forum to come up with a comprehensive online presence that will aggregate the various social media tools that are being used like Facebook, Whatsapp, Telegram among others. It will be interesting to have an online resource of locally generated dynamic content. From the available setup, many members are sharing financial, technical, sales and marketing information.

The future of Tech Innovation in Uganda’s Agriculture sector is indeed very bright and judging by the proactivity of those in the Agribusiness Forum, something new is likely to take us by storm not far from now. Do you want to be a part of it?

James Wire

Agribusiness and Technology Consultant

Twitter: @wirejames

Youtube: Channel: With Wire

Instagram: FarmingWithWire

Email: lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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