Over the next few months, I am switching focus to my fledgling agricultural startup, Raintree Farms. For the last six years I’ve been nipping at the heels of an idea I wanted to explore: how much of an impact can members of the diaspora make in their communities if they switched focus from simple remittances to investing in the betterment of the entire community where their family lived.
The thought process went like this: wouldn’t it be better to build up a community so your family could better coexist with others rather than spending money on one household? If I sent my remittances (which I did) to my family to pay for various expnses, they’d still live a community lacking solid development infrastructure. If I/we can invest in creating jobs, boosting civil and social services, education, etc., wouldn’t our families live in a much better community?
It’s taken me six years to build up this project for reasons too various to go into but the main one being, if you are going to work in Africa on anything meant to be worthwhile, patience has to be your number one ingredient.
As an African-led social enterprise startup focused on agriculural value-addition at the last mile, it wasn’t going to become a unicorn overnight.
It’s been six years of thinking, obsessing, worrying, panicking, disappointment, and blindly following chance opportunities.
I can’t tell you how incredibly difficult it is to get funding as an Agrican agricultural startup. I remember I was basically laughed out of Uganda Investment Authority offices in Kampala when I presented the idea. I balked at the terms of a loan from DFCU bank and didn’t sign. Can’t tell you many times I was told “great idea, but you are a little too small. Call us when you scale” (fucking scale!). So I had no choice but to invest my own money.
Difficulties aside, we are here now. Raintree Farms is an agricultural startup focused on value-added manufacture and sale of organic health products for the African market. Our first product is now on sale in Uganda. Booster+ is a Moringa-leaf based nutritional additive. Raintree Farms processes organically-grown Moringa trees from which we harvest the leaves. BOMGI Uganda – a new health-focused company, fortifies it with selenium and other ingredients, packages and sells it in Uganda (and soon to other countries in the region). Booster+ is currently available in every government hospital in Uganda, targeted at nursing mothers, anyone suffering from malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS patients.
So far, we have a total of 13 acres under management through a combination of company and out-grower land. The out-growers are why this company exists. I wanted a product we could mass-produce and would require a lot of raw materials. Our strategy is designed in such a way that in order for us to meet demand, we have to recruit more and more farmers to become small-holder suppliers.
My mother is one of the farmers and is already enjoying the income earned along with the other early adopters. It is hard to convince Africans to buy into new ideas, especially if you are an African selling those ideas/products (yet another consequence of the aid industrial complex). We’ve stopped believing in each other and that we are capable of transformational ideas.
In the early days of this venture, we were so focused trying to export value-added products until it occurred to me that this was the wrong model. There are a billion consumers on the continent, everyone of them a potential customer. Not only that, I wouldn’t need to focus on them until I could meet the demand for the 30 million+ potential customers right here in Uganda.
There’s massive potential in our domestic markets. The question is, are we willing to compete and elbow out Western brands that pretty much earned the quality seal just because they are imported? To do so, we have raise the quality game from “good enough” to “exceptional”. This takes a tremendous amount of time to perfect.
It is not a humble brag to say that Raintree Farms produces the highest quality Moringa in East Africa. It would be humble to say we are the best in Uganda.
Three weeks ago I arrived in Uganda to find my grandfather on his deathbed. The doctors told us to make him comfortable at home since there was nothing they could do for him after 3 weeks. He had lost nearly all his weight and couldn’t feed himself. I put him on Booster+, knowing that at least he would be able to boost his nutritional intake and giving him some strength.
After nearly 2 months of being fed, washed and changed, he was finally able to shuffle himself to the bath room yesterday.
My mother is now focused on remodeling her kitchen with her income after covering the cost of education for my other siblings.