Uganda: Future of Work Is Farm Management

31 December 2019

There is an increase in the number of 'corporate farmers' in Uganda.

These are people who are employed by the private, development and public sectors and own farms as a side hustle. Once in a while, they post their harvests on social media or when they visit the farms usually on the weekend.

Vision Group CEO Robert Kabushenga even has a dedicated Facebook page about his farm which he updates every weekend or whenever he visits his farm which is located in greater Kampala.

He sings about the potential of agriculture regularly and he has somewhat become the face of what I call corporate agriculture. There are many Kabushengas out there though without the clout and ability to write regularly as he does.

Some of these corporate farmers are genuinely interested in agriculture while others are just protecting their land from grabbers because if they leave it idle, some people will settle on it illegally. The majority of these corporate farmers don't have time as they have day jobs that keep them extremely busy.

However, they face one major problem -- somebody to manage these farms professionally. The majority of corporate farmers simply get somebody from some far-off place in rural Uganda and ask them to help them manage the farm. They are more of casual workers than farm managers. Some can't even write their names or do proper recordkeeping.

Like most such workers in Uganda, sometimes the farm owner wakes up to be informed that the 'farm manager' left last night without any notice. The hustle of getting another 'manager' starts.

Pilferage is also common. A friend realized one day that he had lost more than 100 goats in under six months. His farm 'manager' kept on selling a goat or two whenever he needed to impress the village belles in Nakasongola. Assuming each goat costs Shs 150,000, my friend lost Shs 15m in a very short period of time. Somebody who had a poultry farm near Kampala kept on losing eggs and the chicken themselves to his staff.

If it is not employee theft, it is basically mismanagement frustrating corporate farmers. Supervising the workers when they know you have a busy day job somewhere else is a real hustle. Having them follow instructions is another.

Workers are the biggest challenge for corporate farmers. However, it is an opportunity for serious young people. Farm management could be the future of work for Ugandans. Regardless of changes in the climate, Uganda is still favourable for agriculture. The sector employs the majority of Ugandans (UBOS puts the figure at 70 per cent of all the country's workforce) though most of them have zero skills.

So, updating one's skill for contemporary agriculture should be a priority for young people looking for work. And of course, the youth shouldn't just be dreaming of working in the city or in offices. Corporate office spaces in Kampala are becoming empty each month. Just move around Kampala's high-rise buildings!

Yet the country has ambitious dreams like the one of exporting 20 million bags of coffee in the near future. If this country is to ever achieve that, it will need many people skilled in managing farms.

There are many people interested in agriculture but they fear to invest in the sector because of the issues associated with management mentioned above. They may not want to leave their jobs in the corporate world to settle on a farm to do personal supervision and management. So, instead of agriculture, they invest in easy-to-manage sectors such as real estate where supervision is minimal once the building is complete.

The real estate sector where they invest doesn't employ many people once construction is over. A few cleaners and security guards are all that one needs. For other stuff like plumbing, a contractor can always be called in whenever the need arises. Agriculture already employs a lot of people and it has the potential to take on more people especially those with the necessary skills such as farm management.

Statistics from the African Development Bank show that Africa imports $35 billion worth of food annually and expected to rise to $110 billion by 2025! This is partly because agriculture has been left to be mainly run by peasants or those who couldn't find jobs elsewhere. The corporate farmers aren't getting good returns because of supervisory and management issues.

An honest skilled educated farm manager would be able to use technology that is increasingly available to manage a farm better. Young people looking for jobs should start to seriously consider farm management.

The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.

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