Respect Thy Neighbor

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” –Charles Caleb Colton

A line of rolex stands borders Fort Portal-Kampala Road showing a lack of diversification.

In college, I took my two required economics classes during the final quarters of my senior year. Trying to postpone the inevitable, this was a decision I eventually regretted when I realized that not only did the concepts come easily to me, economics was one subject in school that was extremely relevant to daily life. Perhaps I would have delved deeper into the subject had I had more time before graduation. Living in Uganda, I am confronted daily by a plethora of utter economic mishaps which I might have overlooked had economics not been compulsory.  And while my professors would look at some of these business choices with confused disdain, for Eric and I these shortcomings provide an opportunity to challenge the status quo.

Every morning en route to the farm, the two of us pass a row of rolex stands (vendors who sell scrambled egg rolled in a chapatti—the Uganda equivalent to the breakfast burrito!) and laugh to ourselves; while the age old concept to “love thy neighbor as thyself” has been engrained in both of us since childhood these vendors have taken truly embraced the concept. I respect these budding businessmen for taking the step to begin a new venture, but at some point one must look beyond the business of his or her neighbor and present the market with a unique concept. Both specialization and supply and demand—two of the most basic concepts I learned in economics class—are missing from Uganda’s agriculture sector and at the market place. While they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, watching nearly ten young men and women set up their stalls every morning to begin frying up this beloved Ugandan breakfast begs one to ask how can these young individuals be educated to think beyond the ventures of the person next to them.

Matooke makes up perhaps the most common agriculture venture in Fort Portal. Unfortunately high volumes of rain and soft black soil mean that they also have a tendency of falling over.

When we started KadAfrica, we began with commercial scale fruits and vegetables, including tomato, onion, eggplant, and watermelon. One of our neighbors, a well educated and successful man, decided to stop by on a daily basis and explain to us that vegetables could not grow where we were located; that the only thing to successfully grow in this area is tea. Over and over again, we were escorted through the half-acre of tea he had just planted while being lectured about how we had the wrong idea if we thought horticulture could be successful in Fort Portal. As we have learned and grown, this neighbor has watched his stunted tea turn no profit as our farm has developed into a passion fruit plantation. About six months ago he approached Eric and I and conceded that we do seem to know what we are doing, and perhaps the surrounding area’s infatuation with smallholder tea production is not the most financially viable option. Flooded with a feeling of slight vindication, this emotional rush was coupled with the realization of the drastic gap that exists between even the most educated, well-off farmers and the potential for Uganda’s fertile land.

We will continue driving past Fort Portal’s row of rolex stands, laughing about how a consumer would ever choose between the abundant selection of chapatti and egg; passing miles and miles of gorgeous green views speckled with hundreds mismanaged matooke (green plantains) plantations because of a misconception that this sour starch is the only viable crop country wide. And amidst our own eye-rolls and chuckles, hope that the KadAfrica Estate can lead by example. Illustrating to more than just our tea-obsessed neighbor that an open mind and a willingness to learn can bring diversity to smallholder-based agriculture. That ten thousand acres is not necessary to turn a profit, and that—while one should always respect thy neighbor—diversification provides a more economically viable form of flattery than imitation.

We were excited when we drove up to this guy! He went a step beyond the norm and built a rain shield for himself during his transport of fire wood to the market.

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Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving from our home to yours!

Sorry for the short hiatus; we have been busy celebrating the holiday season. We have taken the last week to enjoy the natural beauty of Uganda and appreciate time with a friend visiting from the United States. But we wanted to take a moment to give thanks to all of our readers out there, and to our friends and family who have been so supportive during our adventure with KadAfrica. We have so much to be thankful for!

Here are some photos of our Ugandan Thanksgiving. It has been an amazing time to reflect on how lucky we are to be living and farming in such a beautiful, fertile place.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all with much love from KadAfrica!

A Lack of Foresight

Rain water floods a house built near the Mpanga River in Fort Portal. Amazingly, it usually sits 15 feet off the river’s edge.

Greetings all! I hope the week is going well. It has been an interesting couple of weeks here; busy, and with absolutely crazy weather. Like most of the world, I too have been following the US elections. This morning my daily news forecast—which I hate to admit, is my Facebook newsfeed—was flooded with election updates. Until I renew my satellite TV subscription, I have sadly become one of the many people that receive current affairs from Facebook. But thanks to the fact that I have friends on all continents who are generally quick at updating their statuses based on what is going on in their part of the world, I awoke to news of an Obama victory.

Before I delve any deeper into today’s post I would like to congratulate President Obama for winning the U.S. presidential election. We over here in East Africa wish him a successful second term as the President of the United States of America. Once, I read somewhere that when a person in America sneezes the rest of the world catches the cold. I believe Obama recognizes this effect, and I can only hope he has a clear awareness of what needs to be done to better the state of the world.

To be an effective leader and initiate positive change one must possess an ability to predict and plan for the future. From my viewpoint, foresight is a characteristic I recognize in successful men and women such as President Obama; it is also a quality that is evidently absent among many people I meet on a daily basis here in Fort Portal. Of course, I can only draw upon examples from my life and perspective, but lack of foresight coupled with the drastic rains that have hit Fort Portal have illustrated a blatant inability to predict and plan.

I know we have posted about this rainy season since our return from the United States. But, while I hate to sound repetitive, the weather here is so pervasive it becomes hard not to discuss it as exceedingly relevant to our daily lives. As rain pours down, Fort Portal’s Mpanga River has rapidly begun to rise—and while Becks and I took the rushing river as a sign to further prep the farm for the storms, it became seemingly apparent that those conducting business on the river banks had decided to ignore the Mpanga’s upsurge and allow the river to slowly creep up to the banks. As if turning a blind eye to the rushing river behind them provided a better option to the work necessary for relocating their businesses. Obviously the rising water levels presented the potential for disaster.

After an excessive rain last week, a group of men and women who sell tree seedlings along the riverbank looked at their inventory in despair. Inevitably, the river finally broke though its banks last Friday completely flooding the entirety of what usually sits on the side of the road.

As I drove back to town from the farm, I came to find one of the bridges over the Mpanga River completely flooded. The scene was the true stereotypical scene of Africa pulled from a Hollywood movie—panicked boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers and their passengers trying to cross this “lake” and the usual herd of cattle attempting to swim through this insane amount of water that somehow no one had seen coming.

The road to the farm looks more like a river at this point!

As I managed to cross this reservoir of water in my car, I decided to stop near one of the tree nurseries that I noticed had moved their seedlings up to higher ground. It was only after I pulled over that I realized why this particular woman caught my eye; shockingly she was the only person amongst maybe thirty or so tree farmers whom had moved her nursery to higher ground. Curious as to what had influenced her, I got out of the car and stated—in a rather joking manor—“Wow, you are clearly the lucky one! What made you move up here?” She replied quietly, “I saw that the river was rising so I thought I’d rather be safe than sorry and move to higher ground.”

As the words rolled off her tongue one of the other tree farmers angrily yelled out at me, “What about us who have lost all our businesses?” I looked at him and asked, “Why are you coming at me as if it’s my fault that it rained so hard?” He gazed back, speechless. I asked him whether at some point during this rainy season he had planned on moving his business off the riverbank as he could see the rapidly increasing volume of water; that it was always just a matter of time before it flooded. He had no response.

While at KadAfrica we have taken precautions by terracing the fields to protect our young crop from the rains, it is disheartening to watch as many allow their businesses to be, literally, washed away. Especially among those involved in agriculture, Ugandans seem to be accepting of the notion that they have little power to change their situations. And while the world has watched as Sandy ravaged New York City—again thank you Facebook!—it becomes fascinating to juxtapose the preparation and response to weather between the two nations. While Mother Nature is ultimately uncontrollable, I personally feel that when something has the power to affect your livelihood, you must try your level best to minimize the damage. You must exercise foresight.

I cannot think of the people of Uganda as incapable of such thought and action, but rather lacking the know-how to think in such a way. We must educate people to think ahead so that they are not left behind, blaming others for their mishaps. Here at KadAfrica we hope our precautions can help lead by example.

In the words of another great American president—

The time to fix the roof is while the sun is shining…

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Go Barrack!

Terraces and drip line now criss cross the KadAfrica Estate; preparation for all kinds of weather.

Five Minutes

Water is key in passion fruit seedling development; even five minutes without can make a difference.

Most of you have probably recognized the past few blog entries as undoubtedly written by a woman—they are well put together and easy to read. But now I’m taking a stab at the world of blogging. First and foremost though, I would like to thank to you all for supporting our blog; readers from over 25 different countries have visited our page in the three weeks since we began.

Today’s entry discusses perhaps the most difficult aspect to conducting business in Uganda and a cultural habit that I find most frustrating: time keeping! This sounds obvious at first, but a notion so simple has become my personal pet peeve since beginning KadAfrica. Disregard to time is easily observed in Uganda; restaurants, supermarkets, and even ATM lines move at a snail’s pace. When dining out, it is typical for a waiter to take ten minutes to approach a table. And after an order is finally taken, questions like, ‘wow are they planting the potatoes before they make my fries?’ are common place among friends as the realization of how much time has passed comes to fruition. Ironically though, this does not necessarily apply to the time it takes to get your bill—an art that has been mastered in Uganda. Regardless of how long food takes to arrive, you can bet the bill will be on your table as soon as your last spoonful of food enters your mouth.

When I think back to all the work we have done while setting up the farm, I can’t help but wonder how much of our time has been spent waiting over the past two years. I wish that I had some way of measuring this wasted time. I will never forget when Becks and I waited three days for a tractor whose driver claimed to be “five minutes away” the whole time.

Three days later, the tractor finally came!

I used to complain to Rebecca about how I had no reason to travel to the USA until I met her; the visa process seemed too daunting, and the mystique of America didn’t outweigh the hassle. I was utterly annoyed by the number of times I heard a sentence beginning with “In America…” fly out of an American friend’s mouth. My skepticism didn’t last long—a few days after our arrival as Becks rushed me to catch the CalTrain up to San Francisco departing at 1:03PM, I doubted that timing down to the minute would matter. But you can bet that at 1:03PM we were on the train as it pulled away from the station. That was the moment I turned to my wife and declared my love for the United States!

I know this may sound like an irrational reason to love a country. But Americans’ sense of timing coupled with the overwhelming variety of items in the snack aisle at the supermarket really did it for me! I am entertained by watching people in line at Starbucks or any other service industry in the United States complain when something takes two minutes longer than his or her expectations. I wonder what they would do if they were to be in Uganda and hear the ever-dreaded line—“I’m only five minutes away.”

There are many obstacles hindering the development of agriculture in Uganda, but I cannot deny that blatant disregard for time plagues the industry. In a country where rain-fed agriculture is the standard, famers do not realize the danger in being late; that the ominous five minutes can make or break a successful season.