In 1972, when the Government tried to establish cocoa-growing in Bundibugyo, residents showed little interest in the cash crop. Only a handful of people picked seedlings.
One such person was Fulgensi Bamwitirebye, who was then a teacher. He only picked100 cocoa seedlings. "The yield was so impressive that I decided to take on cocoa as the main crop in my farm," he recalls.
Cocoa growing in Bundibugyo became popular in early 2000 when Olam Uganda, a cocoa and coffee export company, intervened to promote the crop in this mountainous area.
Cocoa farmers like Bamwitirebye have benefi ted from this initiative. From just a handful of cocoa trees, Bamwitirebye now has eight hectares of his farmland under cocoa. A hectare takes up to 1,600 cocoa trees.
"From cocoa, I have managed to educate all my children to university level," Bamwitirebye says. He adds that he has also built a house. "It is a great achievement and I attribute my success to Olam Uganda, which encouraged me to grow more cocoa."
Bamwitirebye earns between sh3m and sh5m from cocoa every harvest season, which sometimes are as many as three in a year.
Emmanuel Maniraguha, the Olam branch manager of Bundibugyo, says since their establishment in 2003, the company has tried to empower communities not only by guaranteeing market for their cocoa, but also by giving them free inputs.
"In Budibugyo alone, we have so far distributed over 50,000 seedlings besides providing extension services. We are also encouraging cocoa growing in Mayuge, Hoima, Kibaale, Mukono, Masaka and Mityana districts," he says.
Maniraguha explains that the cocoa output in Bundibugyo has improved from between 2,000 and 3,000 tonnes in 2003 to about 20,000 tonnes today.
In Bugamba county, the heart of their operations, about 80% of the land is under cocoa and at least every household has some cocoa trees. A kilogramme of raw cocoa beans costs between sh4,500 and sh4,700.
In the course of operations, Olam Uganda discovered that the community needed help in other spheres and the company stepped in to meet these needs.
Mariam Matovu, an HIVpositive widow, had virtually given up on life. "When I lost my husband, our property was grabbed by his relatives," recalls Matovu, "I was left with just a small mat and my gomesi that I used as a bedsheet to cover my sons."
Matovu says she was helpless since she had no one to turn to. She used to depend on hand-outs from neighbours and would cultivate other people's farms to get food. However, one morning, a group from Olam Uganda came to the village to teach residents about cocoa growing. Matovu mentioned her plight and they promised to help her.
Later, the group returned with donations including clothing, mattresses and other household items. They also took her to a hospital, where she was registered to access ARVs, a move that has enabled her to improve the quality of her life.
Olam also introduced a programme, where 100 residents are helped to improve their livelihoods annually. So far 800 people have benefi tted from the initiative. On World AIDS day, December 1, Olam, in conjunction with Bundibugyo local government, organized a procession around town to sensitise communities on HIV/AIDS.
"We value the contribution of a healthy community to the economic development of this country. That is why we organised the celebration to show people of Bundibugyo our support and appreciation," Maniraguha says.
At the celebration, the company also distributed an assortment of items such as mattresses to widows and orphans. Three schools were also given scholastic materials.
"We have not been supporting schools. However, this year, we started a programme where three schools received 30 desks each and other scholastic materials," he says.
Maniraguha says they plan to assist more schools in future. The organisation has also helped to organise widows and widowers into groups, where they are given heifers and goats.
Jonas Kisembo, the leader of Mawiya, a group that helps people living with HIV in Bundibugyo, says from the initial three heifers the group received from Olam, 17 of the members now have cows of their own.
Samuel Kazinga, the resident district commissioner of Bundibugyo, commends Olam Uganda for their contribution to the development of the district. "Poverty has reduced in the community because of cocoa growing. Olam is also involved in the fight against HIV, which is a commendable gesture," Kisembo says.