Wednesday January 29 2014

On a mission to empower passion fruit farmers

passionfruit

 

Seeing farmers stranded with their produce in the market and having to sell at unfavourable prices, the Kadurus made an investment to enable them have better bargaining power and better deals. They told Edgar R. Batte their story.

Eric Kaduru: I was born and raised in Kenya, but has lived in many countries including Wales (UK) and Nigeria.
I spent most of my adult life in South Africa, where I went to university.

I moved back to Uganda, my father’s home country, at the end of 2008. Before farming, I spent six years in advertising.
Rebecca Kaduru: I am from California, USA. Prior to moving to Uganda, I have lived and worked in Tanzania and Egypt. I came here to work for an NGO, met Eric and the rest is history. In early 2011, we moved to Fort Portal and began KadAfrica, which comes from our name Kaduru.

What is KadAfrica?
KadAfrica is a passion fruit farm and a network of outgrowers in western Uganda. We have nursery faculties where we cultivate hybrid passion fruit seedlings of breeds KPF-4, KPF-11, and KPF-12 from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
We provide outgrowers with free seedlings, basic inputs and links to a ready market.
We do bulk outgrower production with our own five-acre plantation. This keeps transport costs low and ensures our outgrowers receive fair market value for their fruit.

What we do
In May last year, we entered into a public-private partnership with Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Fort Portal for an innovative programme called Girls Agro Investment (Gain) Project.
Gain provides land through the Catholic Church in Kyenjojo to 1,500 out-of-school girls in western Uganda to start their own passion fruit farms.

Under KadAfrica, we started growing passion fruits. Prior to this, we experimented with other horticulture crops such as tomatoes and onions. We did some research in which we learnt that in Uganda you always read about traders at the market but farmers here typically get only 33-45 per cent of the wholesale price because the markets are dominated by traders. It is never farmers selling their own produce.

Passion fruit can grow all year round with proper maintenance and irrigation. A flowering cycle usually takes about three months. We are still working on getting to the perfect year-round harvest. We are learning and still make mistakes, which has affected our ability to keep a constant harvest.

For example, we have gone from harvesting over a tonne a week to a slowdown over these past three months. We had a vitamin deficiency that we have corrected, and it is beginning to pick up again. We cannot wait to be back into full-swing again. The expenditure per season really depends on how much we are harvesting because there are fluctuations in transport costs. Typically on basic operations, we spend about Shs2m a month.

How it is grown
Passion fruits grow on vines on trellises. That is why the best way to describe our farm is that it looks like a vineyard. It requires proper fertilisation, regular pruning and constant water. Passion fruit is not as simple as dropping seeds in the ground and having it spring up. This is why it has a high value.

The beauty of passion fruit is that because it grows vertical you still cultivate ground dwelling crops underneath. This makes it especially viable for smallholder farmers as they can maximise a small plot of land.
They can grow food for home consumption and passion fruit for surplus income.

Other crops
We also grow chillies, red habanero and cayenne, and other vegetables, mostly for the local lodges, including yellow and orange bell pepper, lettuce, white and red onions, and French beans.

We have not fully made back our investment but we are happy because we now earn on a monthly basis. We had a profitable 2013, and are looking to fully break even by mid this year. We have grown by leaps and bounds over the past year through our partnership for the Gain project—adding 600 new out growers. We expect another 600 this year.

The beginning was really challenging. We have definitely had issues with mismanagement and theft at times. This was disheartening but has allowed us to grow as people and managers, and develop systems to ensure that operations run smoothly. When we started we had five workers. Now, there are three men that live on site and two women who work full time but do not live on the farm.

There are six part-time workers who come from 7am to 2pm. These include four women and two men. There are also four women who check in every morning to see if there is work and are paid on a daily basis.
We have a Kenyan agronomist that manages our farm in Kiburara, in Fort Portal, and Ugandan agronomist working in Kyenjojo with the Gain girls, and a third Kenyan Agronomist who oversees all of our operations in both Fort Portal and Kyenjojo.

We sell about 10 per cent of our produce within Fort Portal, 50 per cent in Kampala and 40 per cent for export.
We sell all over the place. We have two exporters that we work with. We sell our fruit to lodges such as Kyaninga and Ndali Lodge in Fort Portal as well as supermarkets in town. We have sold in the past to Sheraton Kampala Hotel, and supply various supermarkets such as Italian Supermarket in Muyenga as well as wholesalers in Nakasero Market.

We do not really market ourselves as farmers. Our passion fruit seems to market itself. We grow a type of passion fruit with higher sugar content and our buyers love it. In fact, our fruit was tested by makers of Splash juice and they said it had the highest sugar content of any fruit they had ever tested in Uganda. Quality and consistency is the best way to market in Uganda.

Starting out

As two college graduates and farmers with a car, we thought we would be able to avoid this dominance of the market, but we later on realised we couldn’t. Though things like tomatoes, onions and green pepper are on high demand here, lots of smallholder farmers grow them and it plummets the value. Additionally, in rural areas like Kabarole, farmers to have to carry or push their produce on a bicycle for an average of two to three hours to the market.

Unfair market
This means that when they arrive, they have to sell regardless of whether they are being given the fair price or not. Anyone who has ever dealt with any of the major markets here dreads the term, “the markets are flooded with…”
This is what traders say when many people show up on the same day with the same item. One day we went to a market in Fort Portal with four 50-kilogramme baskets of tomatoes. We were told the market is flooded with tomatoes and were offered Shs2,000 per basket. This was less than a dollar for 50 kilogrammes of tomatoes.

The worst part was when we watched as a farmer rode up on his bicycle to be offered the same price.
We refused to sell our tomatoes, put them in the car, and stated that we would rather allow them to rot than allow a trader to take such advantage of us as farmers. We realised there was a major problem in Uganda. Farmers do not make money because of the products they grow. They lack proper transport and the market system is poor, so we became committed to finding a solution.

Challenges, lessons, opportunities

Surviving in business has not been easy so we need each other as love and business partners. It has taken commitment and an ability to overcome adversity and disappointment. Business in Uganda is not easy, but building our company has been very rewarding.

Passion fruit is susceptible to disease; because of this it very important to pick the right location. High altitude, above 1400m, helps greatly reduce the risk. This means that the fruit is best grown in the western and eastern highlands rather than in the central region. Regular maintenance and monitoring is key. This is something we have struggled with and are constantly learning about.

We have had some very good days as farmers. Our best day came in August last year when we were harvesting and ran out of crates. We went into a panic because we could not figure out how to organise the fruit.
Finally, we just laughed. Having too much passion fruit for the number of crates we had or the truck we use was an amazing problem to have. There have been bad days too and our worst day was returning from our wedding in the US to learn that our farm manager had left.

During our trip he had been calling to give us updates, when in reality he had gone to Kenya.
We had just cleared land and planted passion fruit, and returned to five acres of weeds and severely stunted passion fruit vines. We were devastated, but learned an important lesson. We decided to uproot them and begin again. It caused us delays but was the right decision.

We continue to do business in face of such challenges because as a married couple the idea of being able to build a successful agribusiness to support and grow our family motivates us. We hope to inspire others to get involved. We would like to build up production levels that support a pulp processing facility.

Currently, most juice producers import pulp from India because farmers in Uganda are unable to provide a constant supply and the needed volumes. We hope to be able to create this product within Uganda and provide an even higher price to our outgrowers.

We would love to see more youth get involved in agriculture. Agriculture is much more than simply alleviating hunger or creating short-term employment opportunities. It is the continent’s most effective high-growth investment strategy. We hope to tackle the stigma juxtaposing farming with poverty in Uganda and exemplify that two young people can build a successful business from the ground up.

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