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Innovations Address Nutritional Gaps In Eastern Uganda

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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aBi-development has supported many farmers countrywide to achieve good yields and earnings.

aBi’s focus is to increase agricultural production and value addition by extending matching grants and business development services to agribusinesses, farmer organisations and intermediaries to enhance planning and management.

They also support production and business infrastructure, as well as upstream and downstream market linkages between producers and agribusinesses.

In a nine-part series, Harvest Money is carrying stories focusing on the success of aBi activities countrywide. In the fifth story, Herbert Musoke narrates how the Eastern Agriculture Development Company Ltd, together with aBi, trained farmers in eastern Uganda in quality bean production to address nutritional needs.

The Eastern Agriculture Development Company Ltd (EADCL) was developed as a social business aimed at addressing the nutritional challenges of the communities arising from what one of the directors went through with her brother.

Sheila Alumo, the managing director of EADCL, had a brother with nutritional challenges and she was moved to look for a way to help other people who could be in the same situation. The company was incorporated in 2016.

Zadouk Tapi, the head finance at EADCL showing Aimor pre-cooked beans.

“In the beginning, she thought of establishing a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which usually stops with funding, but she realised it wouldn’t last long. To help more people, she decided to start a social business. Because it was looking at nutrition, we started with iron and vitamin A-rich orange sweet potatoes and now we have diversified,” Joan Anyait, the project manager, explains.

Diversifying

Alumo narrates that later, when challenges of market and COVID-19 lockdown and other dynamics in production hit, they had to think of what else they could do to increase the revenues and profit margins, such that if one product is challenged, another can bring in money.

“This is when we went into beans, starting with Teso and, with support from aBi, we were able to expand to other areas like Bugisu and Karamoja to produce more beans which are rich in iron and zinc varieties of Naro bean 1,2 and 3. This is all aimed at addressing the nutritional challenges of communities,” she adds.

In 2020, EADCL was looking for ways of conserving the environment and it staerted a pre-cooked beans beand tailored to direct sales of the final consumer.  A kilogramme of pre-cooked beans serves about 10-12 people yet with the normal ones, it covers about 10.

“We boil and re-dry them in a way that maintains all the nutrients. The consumer then re-soaks for about five minutes and fries them, until they are ready to be served in the following five minutes. This saves time and fuel,” she explains.

Working with farmers

From the beginning, with its headquarters at senior quarters in Soroti city and Lumumba Avenue, EADCL was designed to work with smallholder farmers and is now working with organised farmer groups.

“We have field officers and agents who mobilise farmers in communities and they are trained. We go through the process of group dynamics, formation, training and showing them the advantages of working as a group,” Anyait says.

The group that goes through all the steps will adopt it and sign a contract to produce and supply the company.

She explains that since the company started, they have worked with over 3,000 individual smallholder farmers. Each of those groups has between 25-30 members. Currently, it has over 104 groups across Teso, Karamoja and Bugisu.

Collecting harvest

Anyait explains that the agent is the aggregator who must have a storage facility where all the groups he/she is managing should take their harvest before being transported to EADCL main store at the head office where it is cleaned or processed and sold.

“Our agents are mainly referrals when we go to the sub-counties and such people have been working with other NGOs or government projects. The agricultural officers at the sub-county have been helpful and we have been able to recognise model farmers who can teach others,” she explains.

According to Anyait, with help from aBi, they have trained farmers right from the best agronomic practices to post harvest handling, which has enhanced productivity. Farmers have been able to produce high quality grain.

“Still, with help from aBi, we were linked to the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), who are supplying us with both foundation seed to the producers and quality declared seed for production,” she explains.

In addition, NaCRRI has trained 20 groups as seed producers. The process of certifying them as quality declared seed producers is underway.

They will then be the suppliers of quality seed to other producers. She adds that with funding from aBi, the farmers have been given seed subsidies of about 50%, which has helped them to make more profits.

Challenges

Zadouk Tapi, the head of finance at EADCL, explains that they are challenged with weather. With aBi support, they included several farmers in Teso, but they were hit by drought.

They then thought of going to Mbale, which is a predominantly bean-growing area, but they were also hit by floods in Bulambuli.

“Previously, we had standard prices at which we bought from farmers. They were clearly indicated in the contracts, say, sh2,800. However, organisations such as the World Food Programme would come and hike the prices, making it unprofitable to the company,” she says.

Another challenge is competition from other buyers, especially those from Kenya and others who pay farmers highly while the crops are still in the garden. Farmers then forget that it was the company that trained, paid and walked the journey with them, Tapi adds.

Working with aBi

Tapi says aBi signed a partnership agreement with EADCL to improve its supply chain by training farmers to improve their productivity.

Another aim was to help the company meet its volumes of fortified bean varieties on a matching grant, where each had to contribute a certain percentage.

When COVID-19 came in and the incomes of the company dropped, there was a need to diversify.

They added growing beans, which are early-maturing and rich in nutrients, especially in areas of Karamoja as the company strived to improve nutritional requirements of farmers.

“In 2021, Abim experienced prolonged drought, but for farmers who had planted the beans early as we had advised, harvested and were able to eat and sell some, since food was on high demand then,” he says.

Using the aBi funds, they have acquired moisture-meters, soil testing kits and dryers at the aggregation points.

“We are now in the last stages of procuring the cleaning line because we cannot clean and keep it well because the difference comes with quality,” he says.

Plans

According to Anyait, the company is also constructing a warehouse that will enable them trade between 300 and 500mtns because the cleaning capacity is 1-2tonness per input.

She adds: “Also, we will increase pre-cooked volumes as institutions want to buy in bulk.”

Also, they have plans to increase the network with farmers to about 10,000 in the next five years, and also include Sebei, which is one of the best beans producers. Profiling possible farmers starts next season.

What famers say

Christine Alimo, a bean farmer from Adea trading centre in Morulem sub-county, Abim district, is EADCL’s agent.

Alimo says she was an agent of a firm that supplied the company with potato vines.

“In the beginning, we were not into beans. However, the company has introduced improved varieties, such as Naro bean 3, which has attracted many women into growing beans. We still request more knowledge and irrigation because we are affected by weather changes, especially drought,” she says.

Steven Watuwa, a farmer at Bulyuli village, Bumulika parish, Namboko sub-county in Namisindwa district, says he started with EADCL in 2019 through Keewa farmers group as the agent.

He co-ordinated and facilitated the training of farmers in growing beans. “

They gave us 10kg of seeds, but we were hit by drought, so my harvest wasn’t good. They, however, bought from us at sh1,800 per kilogramme. Last year in the second season, I planted 25kg of seeds and harvested 300kg, which I sold at sh2,600 each,” he says.

Watuwa says he was able to pay his children’s school fees and that he set up a brick-laying project. He adds that the area wasn’t into growing beans.

However, the farmer says it is the most yielding crop, especially Naro bean 1, where others even rent more land to plant. Tereza Naluketu, a farmer at Namurunga village, in Namutisa sub-county in Namisindwa district, says he started working with EADCL in 2021 as a field agent.

“I have been the link between the company and the farmers facilitating training, supplying seeds and monitoring the gardens for proper agronomic practices and post-harvest handling,” she explains.

Naluketu adds that she now has three active groups, with over 70 farmer members.

According to her, the project has helped in changing the mindset of farmers to know that farming, especially growing beans, can be a business.

Johnson Barasa, one of the farmers in Buwambwa farmers’ group, (one of the groups under Naluketu) explains that he did not know that beans are grown in rows.

He says it was only after the training from EADCL, that he saw the benefits of growing beans in rows.

“We still have challenges with pests and diseases. We also ask for help for irrigation as we are hit by drought on many occasions,” he adds.

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