Steve Garret describes helping a group of widows develop a business out of small-scale farming in Africa
Last month I travelled to Uganda with support from the Wales African Community Links programme to spend ten days with the Bwera Charity Project in Uganda. This is based in the town of Bwera in the Kasese district of western Uganda, close to the border with the republic of Congo.
The project was founded 17 years ago by Pedson Kasume – a former professional dancer and musician who is now a Pastor with the local Pentecostal Church – to provide support to widows and orphans in Bwera. It helps with educational activities and initiatives such as handicrafts and small-scale agriculture that have the potential to generate income. I have known and worked with Pedson, a man of great integrity and energy, in a variety of contexts during the past ten years.
The Bwera Project supports a group of women who have lost their husbands as a result of AIDS and have very limited sources of support and income. They have organised themselves into a co-operative called NAWU to work together to provide mutual support. Most of them have picked cotton or set up micro trading enterprises to survive since losing their husbands. The group has 35 members, aged between 27 and 82. Any income earned by its members is shared, although those who are undertake the hardest physical work get additional income. Around 21 of the members are physically fit enough to work in the fields. The remainder undertake a range of supporting activities, making weaving carrier bags and providing general support for the food growing project.
Recently they have rented two acres of land about eight miles outside of the Bwera, to grow groundnuts and soya beans for sale. My aim was to help them with think about business planning and sales and marketing initiatives that would generate more income.
I spoke to them about the benefits of collaborating on marketing their production. They had assumed that they would follow the traditional local method of each woman selling independently. However, they agreed it made much more sense for them to operate a collaborative stall which could be run by two of the members, while the others concentrated on other income generating activity.
We also discussed how their products could be processed to add value, for example grinding their groundnuts into peanut butter, and converting their soybeans into soymilk. We analysed the extra costs of packaging and labelling which would need to be incorporated into a business plan to ensure the extra effort would result in increased income.
Finally, I introduced the possibility of the group selling products on their stall that they did not produce themselves, in order to create a greater choice for their customers, and generate extra income. This idea was well received. Additional products included cassava flour, maize flour, honey, and beans. All were produced in the area and were easily accessible for them to sell on their market stall.
We discussed several other ideas for generating income, including small-scale honey production and direct sales of organically produced honey and coffee. For example, this could be imported into Wales and sold at a premium. A large proportion of the income is returned directly to the producers in Bwera.
I plan to return to Bwera in August, in time for harvesting, to work alongside the group in piloting and evaluating a range of direct sales and marketing activities. We should then be able to identify what works best. We can also make plans to further develop the food production enterprise.
Bwera has a poorly developed infrastructure. The roads in the village are badly maintained and full of potholes, which makes walking and driving hazardous. Homes range from reasonable looking brick built houses to what are essentially shacks made out of recycled material.
However, in spite of the difficulties and challenges of life in the area, I found almost everyone to be friendly, open, and interested to know what I was doing. I never felt at risk. On the contrary, there was a general high level of curiosity and bemusement at seeing a rare white man in the town. I found it easy to engage local people in conversation about what was going on in their lives.