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!

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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.