Rain rain go away??

Rain rain go away…

Sometimes it feels like I constantly blog about rain… Or maybe I should correct myself and say that, when I do blog, it is often about rain. And this year is no exception!

This year we are having another one of those ridiculously long rainy seasons that I often discuss and photograph for all of our readers. With floods in different parts of the country and numerous people being displaced it has been a trying time for Uganda. People always assume that, as a farmer, I would be dancing in the rain. And while I do relish in the coolness of the weather, it has been very difficult time for farmers here, especially those growing Uganda’s more traditional cash crops.. When I visited my grandmother last week she told me how she had lost the majority of her matoke plantation due to a storm that swept through Fort Portal.

KadAfrica also bore witness to the effects of this particular storm, at both the farm and the office/house. One of our green houses was torn to shreds by the incredibly strong winds that gust through the valley at the farm. And one of the trees at our home/office that was planted by my father lost one of its beautiful branches. While I was sad that this lovely and sentimental tree was now missing a branch, it was perhaps my neighbor who bore the brunt of this—as it unfortunately landed on her house. Luckily the damage was not that serious and we were able to repair it.

Aside from the heavy rains it has been an incredibly busy few months for KadAfrica. As you know we spent some very fruitful weeks at the Unreasonable East Africa Institute, which seemed to be the beginning of a whirlwind of events. In early September KadAfrica as awarded the SEED Africa Award. Rebecca was fortunate to attend the ceremony in Nairobi, which seemed to have been swept by the Unreasonable East Africa fellows.

Seed Awards 2014

We were also fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the Unreasonable institute in Boulder, Colorado. This was a great experience for Rebecca and myself. Not only were we able to meet some of the most amazing entrepreneurs from all around the world who are doing some amazing things and changing the lives of thousands, we also got to connect with some world class mentors and investors. We were given wonderful advice about how we can grow and strengthen our business and further benefit the community we work with.

Awesome reunion with the Unreasonable East Africa family in Boulder at the Unreasonable Institute..

Awesome reunion with the Unreasonable East Africa family in Boulder at the Unreasonable Institute..

My personal highlight of this trip was my adventure up into the mountains to have my first experience with snow! All thanks to my close friend and Unreasonable brother Banks Benitez—Banks, I truly appreciate you taking your time to drive me up the mountain to find that snow, I owe you a lion when you make it back to Uganda!

Me and Banks up in the mountains, i was super hype to get to play in the snow.

Me and Banks up in the mountains, i was super hype to get to play in the snow.

At the end of October, we hosted a three-day workshop with our implementing partners to plan out for the next phase of our project.

We held an awesome three day workshop in Kampala with our partners from CRS and Caritas Fort Portal.

Three day workshop in Kampala with our partners from CRS and Caritas Fort Portal.

We then hosted an event to showcase the great work that is being carried out by our girls in the West, through some amazing photography and a stunning video put together by CRS (which we promise to share as soon as the final version is up on YouTube!) Two of the GAIN girls from the project experienced their first trip to Kampala, and I must say blew the crowd away with their life stories. And finally last week.

The crowd was excited to hear from the GAIN girls that were able to visit Kampala and share their stories.

I was also honored to attend the Acumen East African Fellows final selection conference last week in Nairobi; Another fabulous opportunity to catch up with friends family and some amazing East Africans doing awesome work!

It has been a crazy few months and we are super excited to see what the end of the year and the beginning of 2016 has to offer us. We are braving the rains and looking to the future, remembering to tell ourselves that…

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

John Ruskin

Big Ideas and Unreasonable Plans

Big Ideas and Unreasonable Plans

It’s been weeks since we last blogged, and I must say this is not because we were being lazy. We have been incredibly busy the past few months, full of learning and laughter as we attended the first Unreasonable Institute to be held in Africa. This was truly a life changing experience; we got to meet a great group of entrepreneurs from all over East Africa, and a handful of mentors and investors from all over the world. For Rebecca and myself it was amazing to be in a place with people that shared our passion and were willing to also take a leap into the craziness that is being a social entrepreneur.

Unreasonable Fellows 2014

Some of the Fellows from the Unreasonable East Africa class of 2014 (and Baby Benjamin ‘The Unreasonably silent baby’)

The range of the work being done by these inspirational young entrepreneurs was so broad that it enabled us to look at KadAfrica from many different angles; we met people in sectors that were both similar and very different from the work that we do. I feel that through our experience at the Unreasonable we haven not only learned a lot about scaling our businesses, but we have also managed to form life long friendships.

A month of awesome courses and great meetings with so many people has helped us develop a plan for KadAfrica’s future. We are grateful that we had the opportunity to go through such a beneficial program; and are so thankful to all of our readers and supporters that made this possible. We can strongly recommend that any East African entrepreneurs who have the opportunity to be part of this program should embrace it with open arms. Hopefully they will be able to leave the Institute with similar experiences to those that Rebecca and I have gained.

The Unreasonable Climax 2014, where all the fellows got a chance to showcase the work they do

The Unreasonable Climax 2014, where all the fellows got a chance to showcase the work they do.

Now that we are back on our grind we have a lot to get done. With our final cohort of GAIN Girls beginning to plant this week and the continuous harvest from the previous girls, KadAfrica has been busy on all fronts. We are moving forward with the goal to scale up our support staff on the ground so that the girls—both those entering the program and those who are already harvesting—can garner the highest yields possible. That they get the support they need from us to ensure that they can learn and earn the most from their budding farms. We want to put more field staff on the ground so that the ones we currently have are not spread so thin. We want them to have all the agro support that is possible in order to help them identify problems before they affect the progress of their sites.

 We could not have imagined how amazing the Unreasonable experience has been; and we are so thankful to everyone who challenged and supported us and helped us to identify what we need to get where we want to go. It is now up to us to make big changes happen—and we are excited to do so!

‘Tis the Season

Trellises going up at the KadAfrica Estate. Just another reminder of how fast time passes.

Trellises going up at the KadAfrica Estate. Just another reminder of how fast 2012 has passed.

It’s that time of year—the rains have begun to subside, grant application deadlines grow close, and friends and family begin to make holiday plans. The KadAfrica Estate exudes excitement as hundreds of poles and thousands of meters of wire begin to appear now that our once small passion seedlings have grown to the point where they necessitate trellises. Seeing our hard work represented by such visible growth is rewarding; it serves as a reminder of how far we have come and how much work lay ahead to solidify a market for our produce.

Last week Eric and I made a trip down to Kampala for a holiday dinner with the Mango Fund, a meeting with their American board members, and a first night of Hanukkah dinner with family and friends. The two of us found encouragement and motivation in the business ideas and tales of hard work that floated across a Chinese food dinner amongst the “Mango Fund family.” Being afforded the opportunity to sit down with like-minded people from a multitude of backgrounds is a privilege; and having the chance to meet and discuss such ideas with individuals we would have never encountered without our connection to a common investor could be the most valuable aspect to our strategic partnership. One of the directors of the Mango Fund gave some opening remarks, explaining how he finds inspiration in the businesses that the Mango Fund supports—that injecting the Ugandan market with viable business plans can produce real economic change and that us, as entrepreneurs, are the backbone of economic development in this country. His words provided a welcomed reminder of why we do what we do, and why it’s so important to challenge the status quo.

Friends and family gather around the dinner table for the first night of Hanukkah.

Friends and family gather around the dinner table for the first night of Hanukkah.

As we celebrated Hanukkah, I had the chance to share my culture for the second year now with my East African family and friends over an abundance of delicious Jewish eats, including latkas (fried potato pancakes), kugel (a sweet noodle casserole), and beef brisket. Accompanied by an exchange of cultural and religious ideals, dinner provided a platform for stimulating discussion and a fried-food induced coma. It also reminded us that cultural exchange is not always so commonplace in Uganda—especially with regards to the agriculture sector. As Eric and I drove the four-hour drive to Fort Portal last Saturday morning we rehashed the value behind the inspiring words we took from the week’s musings. That as entrepreneurs and owners of an innovative agribusiness, we have an opportunity to challenge cultural tenants and stereotypes commonplace among farmers in Uganda.

At KadAfrica, we hope to initiate economic development and change through agriculture and to influence the opinions that surround the industry. In Uganda, a stigma exists against farming—it is a trade for the poor. That farming should be done on a subsistence basis and a person has more of an opportunity to change his or her economic status through purchasing a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) or starting up a retail business. I believe in an intrinsic pattern to a country’s cycle of development, the backbone of which lies in agriculture. Tis’ the season to reflect; to begin looking at oneself and thinking about the resolutions to be made for the year ahead; and to ask the difficult questions. Is it natural for a country to have a Mercedes Benz dealership yet lack agriculture cooperatives? And how can we at KadAfrica begin to create answers through the example we strive to build?

'Tis the season for flowers! Only 70 days until these flowers become fruits ready for harvest.

‘Tis the season for flowers! Only 70 days until these flowers become fruits ready for harvest.

Moving Words

“The majority of our investments are with honest folk, with good business ideas who are learning to implement as we all go along. These are the people that energize us, whether they are building thriving medical clinics in rural areas, or milling rice and maize or recycling plastics from dumps or growing passion fruit on a commercial scale. In each we see the delight that comes from dreaming, from seeing things come to fruition, from realizing that things are possible and from seeing their lives becoming productive. In each we see the awakening of hope and a glimpse of God’s purpose for work in our lives.”

Inspiring words of wisdom from Andy Mills, one of the founders of The Mango Fund Inc. Check out his blog and his write up on KadAfrica at, The 5810 Project – Spend Yourself: Passion – from Fruit to People.

Mango Fund Meeting

A meeting with the Mango Fund brings motivation, business ideas, and a long to-do list!

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.

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.

Strength in Numbers

Passion fruits drop as the San Francisco sweeps the World Series… Go Giants!

It has been expressed to Eric and I that we should include some facts in our blog. After a weekend visit from a friend venturing into horticulture in a town about two hours south of Fort Portal, much discussions were had about the state of Ugandan agriculture, sector corruption and the country’s potential. As numbers flowed across the brunch table on Sunday morning accompanied by stories of the latest aid scandal to grace the front page of Ugandan news, the necessity for such conversations became apparent. Sector change and development will not occur if young people entering into agriculture do not question current numbers and press for accountability.

Though classified as an agrarian economy, the following numbers regarding KadAfrica and agriculture in Uganda illustrate room for growth and improvement:

— employee who has been working for KadAfrica for more than a year

— World Series titles for the San Francisco Giants since Eric and I met

— the combined number of different countries the two of us have lived in

22 — the percentage of Uganda’s GDP earned through the agriculture sector according to the CIA World Factbook

82 — percent of Ugandans who claim agriculture as their main source of income

181 — million dollars in aid given to Uganda from 2006 to 2010 to promote agriculture development

3.6 — billion dollars reported earnings from Ugandan agriculture in 2011

— acres under passion fruit cultivation at the KadAfrica estate

— metric tons of passion fruit to be produced monthly by KadAfrica

200 — metric tons of passion fruit that Uganda can import from neighboring Kenya per week to satisfy demand at an average price of 2500 UGX per kilogram

11.5 — million dollars given by the Bill & Melinda gates foundation in 2011 to increase Uganda’s passion fruit production

Musa; our loyal employee who has been with KadAfrica for a year next week.

As countries begin to pull aid operations from Uganda for lack of financial accountability, it becomes necessary to step back and look at the numbers. Massive potential exists within Ugandan agriculture, both on the development scale and within the private sector—but so do substantial disparities between aid money, food imports, and monetary outputs. Eric and I find the previous statistics encouraging; as we push on through sheets of rain we recognize the need to remind ourselves of the potential for Uganda’s agricultural development and for the production of passion fruit. There is strength in these numbers.

Passion fruit… Uganda’s new green gold?

‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life

There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

-Nelson Mandela

Passion vines at the KadAfrica Estate

My parents have a running joke that I have the worst travel luck ever. After this last attempt at returning home to Uganda spanned four days, I know this will never again be disputed at the dinner table. Since I first moved from the United States to Tanzania in 2008, my mom has encouraged me to write a blog. This last battle with airlines, ticket brokers, and Canadian customs officers sealed the deal—and finally I bring to you all It’s Bittersweet.

I have come to the realization that bad travel luck is not what haunts me; perhaps I am a bit responsible for the chaos that circumvents my life choices. It is the places I go, the country in which I live, and the choice to ditch the office environment in pursuit of a dream I never knew I had that dictates this craziness. Being born and raised in Silicon Valley, I would never have thought I would end up a farm owner in Western Uganda. And while my friends and family might think I am crazy, I can only tell my tale of falling in love with my husband and becoming just as committed to our dream of becoming Uganda’s premiere horticulture farm.

To challenge the mold, introduce new technologies and techniques, and to confront cultural stereotypes have become more than personal or company goals. These notions are the daily reality of starting a visionary business in a country that has yet to intrinsically produce an agriculture sector that can compete on a world scale. And while Eric and I spend days on end looking for a functioning tractor to plow our new five-acre passion fruit plantation, we hope to share our story and inspire those to look beyond the scope of what is “normal” and challenge the status quo. This is not only a blog about entrepreneurship, the difficulties of starting a business in Uganda, or development; it is meant to showcase two young people who strive to succeed outside the box. It’s tough and truly rewarding—it’s bittersweet, and worth every moment!

A cold morning reveals clusters of fruit