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