Anthony Kalulu, a rural farmer in eastern Uganda.

@ Uganda Community Farm (UCF)
191 karmaJoined
ugandafarm.org

Bio

A rural farmer here in Kamuli, in eastern Uganda. My own life has been a mess. But looking at people's circumstances in my region as a whole, I have decided not to sit back. 

I am also founder of the Uganda Community Farm (UCF), a nonprofit social enterprise that aims to put the rural poor in the remotest areas of eastern Uganda on a self-sustainable path from poverty.

How others can help me

If you are someone out there who believes in supporting bottom-up approaches, i.e., poor people-led, grassroots approaches to ending extreme poverty, I am asking you to help me made some small stride on extreme poverty in my region before 2024 ends. More in this post.

Comments
16

Thanks so much too, Roddy. Here are the answers to these questions:

1). Sugarcane takes two years to mature, and is harvested once in a 24-month cycle. During the same period, a sorghum farmer harvests four times (twice every year).

The other thing with sugarcane is that it is almost exclusively bought by only one category of buyers (sugarcane millers). As a result, whenever it drops to the levels of Ugx 60,000 per ton, it isn't just that farmers suffer a low price. It is that they also often have no buyers (due to oversupply), which is why they then resort to selling it as firewood, or for as little as Ugx 30,000 ($8) for a full Tata truck that has ~10 tons (as said in this facebook post). 

By contrast, sorghum has a relatively wider market (all breweries; relief agencies, animal feed producers etc). The UN's World Food Program alone, which is currently the biggest buyer of grains in Africa, sources sorghum and other crops from 15+ countries, including Uganda (see page 3 of this PDF) -- and buying from smallholder farmers is one of their priorities. 

The other thing? While sugarcane has been decried for orchestrating hunger and malnutrition here in Busoga, sorghum can be eaten as food (unlike sugarcane), and being a drought-resistant crop, it is one of those crops that could contribute greatly to food security in a region like ours where droughts have become very frequent. Incidentally, a farmer who grows sorghum also tends to have many other food crops next to their sorghum field, unlike sugarcane farmers who often grow only one crop (sugarcane).

 

2). About the benefits of the facility versus the current setup of growing sorghum without a plant: do you have an estimate for how much sorghum Uganda Breweries and other companies would be willing to buy in the current setup? That is, how many farmers/acres could you support without the plant?

Uganda Breweries (UBL) has no limit on the number of farmers that they are willing to buy from (or the volume of sorghum they are willing to buy from them) without a plant. However, as far as big institutional buyers of grains are concerned, it seems UBL is the only buyer who is willing to buy from farmers like us under this kind of setup.

First, relief agencies like the WFP, GOAL, UNHCR, World Vision etc -- because of things like aflatoxins (which are said to be present in 75% of Uganda's grains) -- have strict guidelines for buying grains like maize and sorghum, and do not buy from food suppliers who do not have their own established postharvest handling and cleaning facilities. 

But it isn't just international relief agencies. A few weeks ago, we contacted Nile Breweries to ask if they too could start buying our farmers sorghum, since Nile is located in our region of Busoga (in Jinja), yet UBL (our current buyer) is in Kampala. We haven't received a final answer yet. However, when you do some research, the fact is: Nile, unlike UBL, requires their grain suppliers to have their own grain cleaning/storage facilities before they can supply them. 

A farmer named Ruth from Soroti (in a distant part of eastern Uganda outside of Busoga), who currently owns a grain cleaning and storage facility that was also installed by Alvan Blanch, says in this news article that... "I told [Nile] if I could be one of their suppliers of white sorghum. They welcomed the idea [but] they told me I had to have a warehouse as well as a machine capable of cleaning the sorghum".

This means: the only big buyer we can work with under our current setup, is UBL. They are very ready to buy our sorghum even without a plant, whether we are working with 100 farmers or 10,000. The only problem is: under this setup, handling our farmers' produce at scale is very hard, and is prone to things like aflatoxin contamination, for which local grains are often rejected.

For example, if we were to expand our project to only reach 5,000 farmers in Kamuli & Buyende, with each farmer producing a minimum of 700kg/acre, that means we will have to gather 3,500,000kg  (or 350 trucks) of sorghum from farmers at the end of each season -- and ferry it to UBL in Kampala immediately after harvest.

By contrast, a grain cleaning, drying and storage facility if in place, can sort, grade, clean and dry that sorghum (since all farmers do not dry their sorghum uniformly), and store it in a way that allows us the time to ferry only part of it at a time, while ensuring postharvest quality. 

 

3). A separate question: could you give me an idea of what proportion of farmers in Busoga grow sugarcane versus being subsistence farmers?

First, the number of farmers here in Busoga who only own <3 acres of land are the majority, as The Monitor says here (subscription required). As such, smallholder farmers, who mostly engage in subsistence agriculture, also form the biggest number of sugarcane growers. 

It is why Uganda's president recently urged such farmers here in Busoga to leave sugarcane, because they (small farmers) are the majority, and when people talk of sugarcane (and the misery it has unraveled) in Busoga, they are often referring to these rural smallholder farmers -- although there is also a small number of farmers who own large pieces of land, and who are the ones who have at least managed to benefit from sugarcane growing.

Hi Roddy, thanks very much too for this message. Here are my answers to these questions:

1). Currently, our farmers are within a radius of about 40km from the UCF, and because the volume of their sorghum is still a bit small, it's the UCF team itself that gathers all these farmers' sorghum using a motorbike, and brings it to the UCF, from where we take it to Kampala. 

We also have a dump truck at the UCF, and whenever the load we are going to carry is a bit big, we use this truck instead. Right now, all these costs (fuel, transport etc) are covered by the UCF, using the money that we raise through small online donations. We don't charge our farmers for transport. Also, until now, we been paying our farmers the full price per kg that our buyers pay -- without deducting any of it, because our farmers' volume of produce (and income levels) are still small.

However, once we install our intended grain facility, the number of farmers taking part in our project is going to increase. Also, the volume of sorghum that individual farmers produce will increase, because the presence of this facility will be an assurance to local farmers of the presence of a ready market. Meaning, the income levels of individual farmers will change too.

So, once this facility is installed, we plan to use one of these two approaches (or both) in gathering our farmers' sorghum: a) ask each farmer to bring their sorghum to our facility, or b) deduct Ugx100 ($0.03) per kg from the price that our buyers in Kampala pay for sorghum, which is very negligible, because, this year for example, Uganda Breweries has bought our farmers sorghum at Ugx 1,300/kg. Deducting Ugx 100/kg would still leave a farmer with Ugx 1200/kg.  

That way, 1000 tons (or 1 million kg) would give our facility an income of Ugx100,000,000 ($27,778) each season, which could be used to cover expenses for gathering our farmers' sorghum and ferrying it to Kampala; pay staff salaries, electricity, equipment repair etc. 

Transporting 1,000 tons to Kampala, using an ordinary FUSO truck of 15tons, would require 67 trips to Kampala, and a single trip costs Ugx 600,000, meaning, Ugx 40,200,000 (US$11,166) for the 1,000 tons. From the total income of $27,778, this would leave us with $16,611 each season, for staff salaries, electricity, equipment repair etc. 

 

2) How long does the harvesting season last, and how many hours a day could the plant operate? I'm wondering what yearly capacity the 15 ton/hour capacity corresponds to.

The harvesting season lasts about 1.5 months (or 45 days). If the volume of our farmers' sorghum is still small, the facility will only have one 8-hour shift a day, meaning 120tons cleaned per day, or 5,400tons in 45 days (i.e., once planting season), and therefore 10,800tons/year.

If the volume of our farmers' sorghum becomes big, we will have two 8-hour shifts a day, meaning 240tons/day, or 10,800tons in 45 days, and therefore 21,600 tons/year.

 

Also note:

Besides sorghum, this facility will also clean/grade crops like maize, beans, rice, millet, peas etc, meaning, even in those times of the year when we are having no sorghum, this facility will still have another crop it's working on, enabling local farmers to diversify their incomes. 

Dear Roddy, thanks so much for this message. Although it has taken me long to write you back, I am really very thankful for your kind contribution to the UCF, and for the encouraging words you left on this post. I have also mentioned you in my new post that was published yesterday.

As for why we chose to have Alvan Blanch to install our intended grain facility, rather than say an Indian or Chinese firm, the reason is because most agro-processing plants that I know here in Uganda were installed by European companies. Those which have been installed by Indian and Chinese firms are those that mostly belong to Asian investors operating in Uganda/Africa.

But those owned by Ugandans/Africans, often use European firms. These include:

1) GrainPulse in Mukono (near Kampala). Their facility was installed by Alvan Blanch.

2). AgroWays, which has several plants in various parts of Uganda, some of their grain facilities and silos were installed by Cimbria, a Danish firm, and some by Alvan Blanch.

3). Acila Enterprises in Soroti (Uganda), their grain cleaning, drying and storage facility was installed by Alvan Blanch.

4) Totco Grain & Seeds, in Lira (northern Uganda), their grain facility was installed by Cimbria.

Hi Nick, I had no access to the internet the whole of yesterday, and it’s why I am only writing you back now. This is a good question that I think many people would be very curious to know. So, I am instead putting my answer in a separate post. I am going to share it with you once it’s ready. Thanks so much.

Hi Rupert, thanks so much for this. 

The reason we want to incorporate animal agriculture in our operations, is simply to find a way of covering our overheads in a self-sufficient way. Because short of this, it would be very hard for us to meet our operating costs especially with our new goal of expanding our sorghum work. 

But, as a person, I am really very conscious about animals rights, and I am very conscious about organic/permaculture farming systems, and it is why, on our page "12% for 100% ADMIN self-sufficiency"... I even pointed out that: "unlike those chicken that are kept under factory farming systems (like battery cage), free-range chicken are very cheap to feed, and to take care of."

On that page, you can see that my goal is to try and make our 12-acres as natural as possible, including the growing of crops like red pepper for use in making organic pesticides.

If we manage to raise the needed $99,680 for transforming our 12 acres, I would love to invite you to visit the UCF, when we have initiated our intended chicken forest too, just to share ideas. In fact, we really need people's ideas, and we need friends from anywhere in the world who can visit us anytime, on this journey.

Hi Sean, thanks so much for this really insightful message, and the things you have pointed out.

I just want to note two things:

1). Although I am now asking EA to help the UCF raise support, my original EA critique (which I made two years ago) was aimed at getting EA to change the way they work with the extreme poor and their local grassroots orgs in the global south as a whole, not just my own organization (the UCF).

2). As regards my own work at the UCF, a few people from The Life You Can Save, one of the EA charity evaluators, physically visited us in Namisita (Kamuli) in 2023, and even toured some sorghum fields of the local farmers that the UCF works with.

I believe their motivation to visit us was my EA critique, because their proposal to visit didn't come from me. It came from them. Here are a few photos from that visit (I am the one putting on a black cap in those photos):

https://www.ugandafarm.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/DSC07941.jpg

https://www.ugandafarm.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/DSC07951.jpg

https://www.ugandafarm.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/DSC07943.jpg

https://www.ugandafarm.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/DSC07945.jpg

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