Is Ginger the Main Ingredient for Easing Poverty in Rural Uganda?

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Uganda Community Farm
Local ginger farmers pose at the entrance to the UCF training and demonstration center in Kumuli.

Rural communities in Eastern Uganda have long grappled with extreme poverty. Recognizing the potential of common livelihoods built around small agriculture, a local farmer named Anthony Kalulu saw an opportunity for a grassroots social enterprise to benefit entire communities. Demand for ginger in Uganda is high, and lack of local supplies has fueled imports from neighboring countries. Recognizing this gap in the supply chain, Kalulu created the Uganda Community Farm, or UCF.

The UCF trains rural smallholder farmers in the production of organic ginger, and then pools their cumulative ginger produce into a cooperative. While the average smallholder farmer operates only two to three acres of land, their combined community harvest attracts larger buyers, including wholesale grocers and bottling companies, such as Coca Cola. Pooling their crop yields together in this way has provided unprecedented access for the rural farmers to high-value markets.

Two UCF training and demonstration centers are already operating in Kumuli and Buyende, providing skills and knowledge needed for rural households to begin producing their own organic ginger crops. The recent construction of a large storehouse at the Kumuli demonstration center has created a central marketing location.

Outside of the training centers, the UCF is harnessing local knowledge and community networks to educate new ginger farmers. In each village, six model farmers are selected to provide peer-to-peer mentoring to new farmers. Sharing their technical knowledge and skills, the mentors will monitor cultivation and organize harvests and collection, as well as coordinate additional outreach activities.

In addition to offering training and market access, the UCF has also devised a microloan program to allow the poorest farmers the means of establishing small ginger farms. Instead of cash, however, each farmer receives 20 kilograms of ginger rhizomes to get them started. After the harvest, the farmers repay this loan in kind, by offering the same amount of ginger rhizomes to the next household in need. This self-scaling approach aims to maximize access to the UCF community, thus increasing both yields and returns for all involved. With this approach, it is projected that the UCF will expand by 150 percent each year, with no additional external funding. What’s more, the UCF expects to be fully self-sustaining within two years, based on profits made from the ginger being grown at the two demonstration centers.

At the moment, the UCF is still raising funds to provide 552 pilot smallholder farmers with the startup ‘capital’ of ginger rhizomes. Their initial outlook projects that within only the first year of operation, the income of each farmer will increase to USD$2,600, or $7 per day. In a country where the average income per household was a mere USD$704 in 2013, this would be a staggering increase in economic welfare in these communities. The potential of the UCF to alleviate poverty offers a promising local solution, with ginger and grassroots action as the main ingredients.

To learn more about the UCF, visit http://www.ugandafarm.org/.