Prof Alex Ariho(R) explains to Mentors including FAO country representative (3rd right) during the Mentor,Mentee match and mix at Excel .PHOTO/RAJAB MUKOMBOZI

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How agri-business service centre is transforming Mbarara

What you need to know:

  • Excel Hort Consult in Mbarara is an information hub where farmers can get updates on agriculture-related issues and developments as well as link with private investors.

In 2017, Clinton Oyesigye, the president of Uganda National Youth in Agriculture and Agribusiness had a big puzzle to solve, which was attracting the youth to appreciate farming as a viable venture for social economic transformation.

Despite his association having more than 100 members then, several sensitisation and trainings, the members were reluctant to embrace and take on farming not until they signed a memorandum of understanding with Excel Hort Consult agribusiness hub in Mbarara that a visible impact was realised. 

“Not many youth see agriculture as a viable sector to transform them and have abandoned farming to the old, poor people and many including graduates have gone into petty trade and business like riding boda-bodas, we wanted to reverse this trend and get more youth in agriculture, but it was easy,” says Oyesigye.

Like Oyesigye, Atananzio Tibaine a matooke farmer from Rubaya, Kashari in Mbarara District and a member of Uganda Banana Producers Cooperative Union, says they had challenges of accessing extension workers for advisory services but got a reprieve after partnership with Excel Hort Consult through farmer field visits.

“It is because of the farmer field visits organised by Excel that gives an opportunity to interact with researchers, innovators and experts in the agricultural sector. It has always been a challenge to access extension workers who seem to be scarce but during these visits we learn a lot on how to address challenges that affect us like post- harvest handling, pests and disease control, climate-smart agriculture, among others,” says Tibaine.

But the innovations and partnerships with Excel Hort Consult, an agribusiness incubation hub in Mbarara City seems to have offered a relief to some of the farmers’ woes, and the youth to embrace farming. It is located on four acres on the gentle foothills of Biharwe, Mbarara City North Division. It has hundreds of demonstration plots, livestock and poultry units, an agricultural museum, and artisanal centre, among others.

Prof Alex Ariho, the director general of Excel Hort Consult explains that the project started in 1999 with the main objective of poverty eradication among households through giving farmers support on starting, managing and sustaining businesses in the agricultural sector.

“Our objective was to incubate businesses in the agricultural sector, the challenge the sector has been facing is not translating it into business for job, income and wealth creation. We were especially targeting the youth and women on how to start, manage and sustain businesses in the agriculture sector,” said Prof Ariho.

At Excel Hort Consult there several the transformational activities that have helped communities and the youth to get hands on skills, and mindset change in embracing agriculture as a viable sector for social-economic transformation and these include:
Farmer field visits

Excel Hort Consult organises farmer field visits where farmers tour and learn from different enterprises and innovations at excel consult agribusiness center.

During these visits, farmers interact with experts and professionals in the agricultural sector and share a wide range of issues including seed quality, value addition, post-harvest handling, pests and disease control, climate-smart agriculture, water harvesting and management, green house and irrigation farming, among others.

Roland Ainomugisha from Makerere University School of Agricultural Sciences explains that farmer field visits, especially guided by experts, remain more crucial in passing on knowledge to farmers than taking them for lectures in workshops.

“Just telling farmers to abandon their way of doing things without evidence and practically showing why these farmers tend to reluctantly adapt to new technologies and innovations but through these farmer field visits they will be interacting with farmers in finding their challenges and offering knowledge and advice on how they can be addressed,” said Ainomugisha.

Makerere University of Agricultural sciences has partnered with Excel Hort Consult to support farmer field visits by providing some of the professionals and agricultural experts. 

Mentor, mentee match and mix
“Mentor, mentee match and mix is an event that happens here every last Friday of every month. It is where the young generation (mentees) bring in curiosity and energy and adults (mentors) bring in expertise and life experience. Here we bring in different mentors to interact and enjoy with the youth (mentees). At Excel Hort Consult, we have a number of projects to include agriculture museum, crop and livestock projects, artisanal centre, arts and craft, among others,” said Prof Ariho.

The young generations are taken through these by selected mentors, most times professionals and influencers, but as they also have fun and entertainment.

Some of the students being taken through skills training during the launch of Agribusiness clubs at Excel Hort Consult incubation hub. PHOTO/RAJAB MUKOMBOZI

He explains the mentor, mentee match and mix is an innovation that was developed to bring on board the young generation to appreciate and love agriculture and agribusiness in a flexible way.

“When teachers use activities that make learning fun, the young generation are willing to participate and learning while having fun helps this young generation to retain information because it becomes enjoyable and memorable,” he explained, before adding that the young people will have no fear of trying out anything as long as they perceive it as fun and enjoyable.

“Since this mentor, mentee match and mix programme, we have heard testimonies of many young people starting their own agri-business projects,” he added.

Moses Mwebaze, who graduated last year with Bachelors of Laws from Bishop Stuart University, is a beneficiary of the mentor, mentee, match and mix.

“As a lawyer I had no much thoughts on joining farming but during one mentor, mentee match and mix after being invited by a friend, we happened to have an interaction with the FAO country representative Mr Antonio Querindo. It’s when my mind raced to like farming. I now own 100 pigs, and 200 local chickens,” testifies Mwebaze. 

Prof Charles Kwesiga, the executive director of Uganda Industrial Research Institute, one the mentors, says without innovative ways to bring young people to appreciate farming, the country‘s economic future remains threatened.

“The country is likely to lose inspiring and transformational talents if it can’t find innovative ways to change mindset to entice the young people to farming. The economy will be threatened, and this innovation of mentor, mentee match and mix remains appealing in passing on skills to the young generation,” said Prof Kwesiga.

Agro-tourism
At Excel Hort Consult there is agro-tourism and agriculture museum whereas guests get a chance to interact with local farmers on different farm settings, growing of crops and livestock sections, food processing, tasting, and marketing.

“Our guides are professionals that will help our visitors acquire knowledge on how to improve agriculture,” says Prof Ariho.
At Excel Hort Consult agro-tourism and museum you will acquire farming skills as you enjoy exciting farm stays, farm visits, farm tours, demonstrations, recreational farm moments and farm meals.

The centre also hosts and coordinates a hands-on skilling training of farmers ,under the 10f’s model that include; Farm technology development, farm technology access, farm organisation and financial services, farm data resources management, farm value addition and processing support.

Agricultural rentals
Lack of access to land is a challenge, especially to the youth. But an innovation of agricultural rentals has enabled those without land to carry out farming. Excel Hort consult has constructed agricultural rental units, and are already being utilised by some youth to earn a living.

Biharwe Youth in Development  have rented three units for piggery, a poultry unit for 100 chicks and rabbit unit for 200 all for six months at a combined Shs450,000. 

Rita Akampumuza says they chose rentals for sustainibility. 
“We were convinced this is a good venture to invest in,” explains Akampumuza.

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