A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting a Director of an Ivy League university in USA that has been established in Rwanda. We talked extensively about his experience working Rwanda for the last four years. One of the things he said was that he has finally acknowledged that while prior to moving to Rwanda he thought he knew the Continent pretty well, four years later in Rwanda, he has that he knows very little about the Continent. Over the last four years, he has realized that Africa is a coin with very many facets. Unfortunately the world has chosen to process Africa through the eyes of chaos and misfortunes, and in the process missed the many other facets of the Continent. The result is that Africa is a hive of untold stories.
Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”, goes to great lengths to illustrate the point on the one sided stories of Africa. She goes to great length to explain how defining a Continent or even an experience based on a single account, gives us incomplete and potentially damaging understandings of experience. Unfortunately, even within the Continent, we perpetrate single sided stories of each other. As part of the Lapid Leaders Africa Experience, we embark on Study Trips that seek to unearth some of the untold stories of each of the countries that we visit.
We have recorded the first part of the stories we unearthed in Uganda here. The second story that we unearthed from Uganda is a story of wealth, a story of a how Uganda is a very rich country, and a story of understated wealth. While the world defines wealth based on money, we choose to define wealth based on natural resources that God has bestowed on this Continent. This kind of wealth is often understated, and especially among us in Africa. In an effort to be westernized, we get caught up chasing after a foreign wealth, while the foreigners on the hand seem to identify and work with the wealth that we run away from.
A rich country
Uganda is endowed with significant natural resources, including ample fertile land, regular rainfall, and mineral deposits. One of the mentors that we met in Uganda indicated that this small country could on its own feed all of Africa if it were commercially farmed. This has been supported by many other reports that we have since unearthed.
For example, matokes (bananas) are prevalent across the country. Did you know that Uganda is the second largest producer of bananas after India? Did you know that mre than 75% of all farmers in Uganda grow bananas?
Bananas are a staple food in Uganda. However, it is the innovation and value addition in the banana sector was pretty impressive. Some of the value addition products that we came across included banana wine, banana fibre products, briquettes and biogas using banana peel and other wastes among others. Monica Wakio, one of the Lapid Leaders, said, “It showed me how bananas can be used in so many ways; from roasting them, frying, boiling etc; they even had cakes and cookies that were made from bananas. In my country we have bananas in surplus but do not add value to them as much, we prefer selling. That was a challenge to my country as I realized that we can utilize the available resources we do have as source of income and food.”
We had the privilege of meeting Roy Gakuo, 2pm. Roy is the Managing Partner and Strategy Consult , Media Incubation and Accelerator programStrategy Consult , Media Incubation and Accelerator program. Currently, he is part of an incubation program in food value addition in the University of Makerere. This meeting allowed us to understand how Uganda is adding value to rich produce.
He said, “Value addition is the process of changing or transforming a product from its original state to a more valuable state. For example, you can add value to wheat by transforming it into flour, or strawberries in to jam”. The University of Makerere has set up a food value addition and facilitates the pilot plants and projects within the different processing lines. This is an initiative that has great potential in Uganda’s agriculture based economy.
Agriculture in Africa
Agriculture employs 80% of Uganda’s population and generates 90% of export earnings. Coffee is the main export crop, with tea and cotton other agricultural products. However, like many other countries in Africa, there are immense untapped opportunities especially in value-addition and Agribusiness. The country is highly dependent on food import dependency, despite this immense potential.
This is in line with a report by World Bank indicated that Agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) in sub-Saharan Africa stagnated between 1961 and 1985, and then grew at about 1% per year through 2008. This is despite the fact that food insecurity is pervasive across Sub-Saharan Africa yet the Continent boasts of the highest level of arable land in the world.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting with the Lead Consultant in Babford, a US-based organisation that is involved in various Agribusiness initiatives in the region. As we discussed the challenges that the Continent faces in realizing its potential as far as agriculture goes, he highlighted challenges such as lack of capital, lack of technology, labor limitations, among others. However, he said that in his opinion, the greatest challenge and hindrance to the development of Agribusiness in the Continent is lack of knowledge.
I tend to agree with the Consultant, that there is a huge information gap as far as agriculture goes. As Lapid Leaders, we intend to continue enhancing our knowledge on the opportunities in Agribusiness. We recognize that while Uganda has made some steps towards value addition, this rich country is still very far fully realizing the potential of the wealth they hold.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many African countries were net exporters of food. In the 2000s, with the pick-up of growth and the mineral commodity boom, Sub-Saharan Africa became a significant net food importer. We look forward to the day when Uganda begins to take back its place a Feeder of the Continent.