Graduating from university without a job is one of the biggest challenges Ugandan youth face but when nine dedicated individuals came together to form an online agribusiness network to market vegetables, life has never been the same, writes BAKER BATTE LULE.
Deflated, hopeless and tired of looking for the unavailable jobs, nine youths under the banner ‘Youth Agripreneurs’ thought about how to leverage the information technology knowledge they had acquired from their various universities to make ends meet.
They had the answer in agribusiness but were reluctant to embrace it. Many of them had grown up in peasant homes where agriculture was the main source of their livelihood.
However, they grew up hating it because of all the disadvantages that came with it. The bad weather, lack of good seeds, fertilizers, fluctuating prices and, sometime nonexistent markets, among others; all combined to influence the youth that agriculture wasn’t a thing for them.
To relieve some of their fears, organizations such as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Makerere University and the National Agricultural Research Institute, among others, provided them with disease –free seedlings and biochemical products to fight pests.
With the issue of seedlings sorted, the remaining challenge was the market. To solve this, the youth came up with an online vegetable basket application where potential customers make their requests online.
Becky Nakabugo, the leader of the group, says as they grappled with the issue of getting markets for their products, they realized there is also another basket of consumers who also faced difficulty in buying what they wanted
The high-end customers would also find a problem going to the overcrowded markets full of the unwashed of our communities; hustling in the incessant Kampala traffic jam and, in case of foreigners, price inflation immediately they show up at a stall.
“We identified a gap that we had an opportunity to fill,” Nakabugo says. They embarked on collecting email addresses of middleclass and well-to-do people, whom they would prepare a list of available vegetables and then supply them on a weekly basis.
“The internet is the way to go. Instead of youths spending time quarreling on Facebook and WhatsApp, they are better helped by engaging in development activities like we are doing because surely the available jobs are not enough to cater for all of us who have graduated from universities,” Nakabugo says.
How it works
Nakabugo notes that they created an online application form which they email to their prospective customers detailing the quantity and price of the vegetables available. Customers whose interest is aroused then fill a form indicating their choices and directions of their offices or homes, where the vegetables are delivered on a Friday before 4pm.
“We realized there is a market for vegetables. We were able to even phase out middlemen who used to cheat us by buying our produce cheaply and then sell at twice or thrice the farm price,” Nakabugo adds.
Why vegetables only
Nakabugo notes that they opted for vegetables because they are easy to grow and take a few months to mature for harvest.
“Because of unemployment, most of the youths are not patient enough to wait for things like coffee or bananas that take more than a year to harvest. Vegetables take two to three months and can be harvested throughout the year; that’s why we settled for them,” Nakabugo says.
Currently, their database has 1,200 customers whom she says can no longer satisfy with harvests from their farms.
“We created farmer groups that we trained on how to grow healthy and quality vegetables because our customers are particular with what they eat,” Nakabugo says.
The group is now dealing with 21 farmer groups, all found in Nabbale sub-county in Mukono district. To maintain quality, farmers are taught to spray their vegetables at least two weeks before harvest.
Nakabugo notes that each member invests about Shs 1.5m weekly to buy vegetables from farmers and makes between Shs 100,000 to Shs 150,000 depending on the nature of customers.
She says some of their customers are not good at tracking emails when they are sent to them. Therefore they fail to make orders but will want to make last-minute orders when they see our products delivered to their colleagues.
“We don’t bring extra orders because some customers might think that we are selling them rejects,” Nakabugo says.
The other challenge that the youths find is that of transportation. Sometimes the orders are too many and in places far apart yet they only have one motor tricycle [tuku tuku] which they purchased using profits from the business. They says they are in the process of trying to buy a car to ease the transportation.