When I arrived in Kagando I spent the first few days visiting farms and land in the local area, to see what was currently being done so I could look at the areas to improve in my time farm. The farm had many positive points, including well stocked and productive poultry unit. There was a good herd of healthy cows producing some milk which was being sold to the public and also used for malnourished children. A good team of staff were in place with a good management structure to oversee the work done. The farm was however struggling with its finances, and there had even been talk not long before my arrival of closing the farm due to low profitability. Large areas of the farm were not utilised to its potential due to lack of funds. The management though had persuaded the board to give them some time to turn it around and this made my arrival very timely.
Though I felt overwhelmed by the size of the task at first, it did not take me long to see the potential of the farm. I started to come up with the changes we could make and after a meeting with the staff, we agreed on the way forward.
Increase the milk production –
- Improve the feed of the cows by adding protein to the diet
- Improve the water supply to give the cow’s access to water all day and night, rather than just twice a day as had been the system up until then.
- Improve the breeding program by introducing Artificial Insemination, and sourcing some new Ayrshire Cows which will form a new herd
Improve the Crop Production
- Utilise all areas of the farm and establish a good rotation including home grown crops for the cows, to reduce the cost of purchasing expensive feed.
- Build an Irrigation system to utilise water from the stream passing through the land. This would be a gravity flow system that would enable the farm to produce crops all year round, regardless of the weather.
- Analyse the soil to establish whether it was lacking in nutrients and if so how we could improve it with the right application of fertilisers, both organic and artificial.
Improve the organisation and facilities on the farm
- Re-furbish the office making it a useable space to effectively keep records and manage the farm from
- Develop the account system on the farm and improve the record keeping
- Improve the current farm buildings and cattle yard by painting, re-concreting
- Build two additional water taps outside
- Build a silage pit to store feed for the cows during the dry season
We established some short term and long term targets so that we could start immediately on the developments. Despite being told to lower my expectations of what I could achieve in my two month out there, I did not take much notice. I have always been ambitious and as someone that likes to work hard and lead by example, I was confident that we could achieve a large amount of the list in two months.
Within two weeks we had built three concrete water taps with automatic shut off taps to supply water to the cows in all six grazing paddocks. I started to purchase new feed for the cows and we soon had a ration of maize brand, soya and sunflower cake. The results soon came and we immediately started to see a response from the cows with an increase in milk yield from most of them.
The second phase was the irrigation and after finding the right place to build it, we soon had a design to work from and work started at a fast rate. The men worked hard and I could already feel a huge change on the farm with the staffs morale and work ethic. Everyone was excited about what we were doing and wanted to be involved. Despite a few problems and design alterations along the way we completed the irrigation build after a month, and started irrigating newly planted cabbages, soya maize, sorghum and Napier grass. The land that had been covered in weeds when I arrived was now in full production!
Finally we moved on to the work on the farm facilities. The silage pit was built, the office was refurbished, new floors were laid, taps were built, the wood was re-painted and with the addition of a new sign, the new look was complete. Together we had worked hard and turned the farm into a place to be proud of – there was a great vibe around the farm now, with many people coming to visit and see what we had done.
We had reinstated the farm as a demonstration farm and invited farmers to come and see the new developments. I also started a scheme of giving farmers seed to grow on a contract basis. I wanted to develop the idea of farmers working well in collaboration in order to lower input costs and get better sale prices by selling in larger quantities. This is something we will continue to work on when the crops are harvested.
As well as the practical building, I spent time with the accountant, developing his skills and together producing a method of keeping accounts that provided the farm with the right financial information that it needed to make decisions on the farm. I also worked with the farm manager on his organisation skills and management techniques. Since being back in the UK I am in regular contact with the farm to monitor the accounts and help with any advice and help I can offer form here.
The workers were all keen to learn and responded well to new ideas. I was learning a lot too, as I was in a system and environment like none other I had experience so for me it was a steep learning curve. As a team ewe achieved something that I will always be proud of and I hope will be the start of bigger things to come. There are still a few items on the list to tick off but it is a work in progress and the work there will continue until we have a thriving farm, producing high yields, demonstrating the best ways to farm and most importantly is a sustainable business that is not only surviving but also creating large profits to help fund the hospital.
Towards the end of my time in Kagando, after having visited many farmers and discussed their problems I started to think about the future. I could see huge potential and found it hard to understand how the great resources available were not being utilised. I struggled to see how an area like this could have so many malnourished people.
The problem was clear, although the direct inputs were all there, the in-direct inputs such as financial capital, knowledge, infrastructure, technology and markets were lacking. This is effectively what I was able to add to Kagando Farm. I thought how could I do that on a much bigger scale that would benefit many more farms. This led me to think how I could invest in farmers and work with them to educate food production and most importantly, become truly financially and resource sustainable. A word so often used but unfortunately so many projects fail to become ‘sustainable’.
It would take something different to create a sustainable agricultural system, a different business model. Previously too much reliance on aid and donations has created an environment whereby people are never forced to make their farms sustainable. When things go wrong or there is a lack of money, and nothing is done about it. As a generalisation people have relied on the backing of aid and charity. The new business model would eliminate this mind-set.
So many projects go through this cycle of; investment, work well whilst the finance is flowing, and then fail when the money ends. I saw first-hand how, 20 years ago Kagando farm had 4 cows donated from the UK with the intention to grow the herd thus improving milk production.
When I first went to the farm in 2014 I found they were producing less milk with worse quality cows than before and the herd size was 8. That was not sustainable. What should have happened and according to the plan: a breeding program that led to a large herd of good cows in the region and high milk production. Now were back to square one again.
It is evident in the area that many project have not become financially sustainable. I believe the approach has often been wrong and the situation will not improve until we change culture of dependence on donations to one of sustainable investments. We should be encouraging people to run financially sustainable farms and in order to do this, they would have to work hard in partnership with us to repay the investments, thus treating the farm as a business.
From my time spent in Kagando, I could not help but think, if I had my own charity, I would make a difference. However in reflection, would another charity to help farmers really help or would it end up in the same way, farmers relying on subsidies in the form of aid?
This is where the journey really starts. I realised that a business approach is much more sustainable and I believe can offer much bigger and long-term advantages. A limited company with a ‘profit for purpose’ culture. A company that is financially sustainable not relying on donations with all profit retention to go straight into new projects and more farmers.
By using investments to start potentially profitable projects, we would manage and run the whole process to ensure from start to finish the projects are established successfully with the integration of locals. The investments are paid back and all money over a certain bracket would be reinvested. To enable this, close working relationships with the farmers and communities will be vital to build up trust and respect
The Ultimate dream;
To have an organisation that is run entirely by Ugandans, with input from UK students and experts who go out to offer their advice and experience on exchange/sabbaticals. The organisation will offer investments to farmers in a sustainable way that it creates the return. It will invest in good business plans and work closely with its clients to ensure they are a success and targets are met. The aim is to become a profitable business that pays good salaries to its workers and offer a life changing service to a wide area of Uganda.
In the long term we hope to open up the products we farm to a wider international market by exporting products such as coffee, vanilla and honey to places where they reach a higher value. We will aim to help intensify farming and contribute towards fulfilling the global challenge of feeding a rapidly increasing population with ever changing diet demands.
In 2014 Agri Evolve was established. This is the dream, and this is what’s happening now, we want to make a difference. In the coming months and years you’ll find me out in the plains of Uganda, educating, researching, working but ultimately striving to make this a success. With your support we can be much better and achieve even more.
This is my story and together with the teamwork and united belief in the idea of good friend and now business partner, James Wilkinson.
Now, we are Agri Evolve.