Samuel Mbunanazo is a farmer in Kiwatule but during the lockdown, he struggled to find market for his produce.
And when he did, the middlemen were paying him much less than his projected value for the produce. In the end, he lost out financially as much of his produce rotted in the garden. A range of farmers across the country have experienced similar situations long before Covid-19 was a cause for the setback. Agro-Fresh, a growing online e-commerce platform, launched earlier this month has come up with a solution for farmers facing dilemmas.
The company is connecting farmers to the final buyer at reasonable prices to both parties. Mbunanazo told The Observer that until he linked up with Agro-Fresh, he struggled a lot, especially this year, when transport was restricted during lockdown.
"And even when vehicles were moving again, the middlemen would give me ridiculously low prices for my matoke and sweet potatoes. At the end of the day, after balancing my books, I would find that I am in a deficit, making it hard for me to plant again," Mbunanazo said.
Yet, with Agro-Fresh, Mbunanazo revealed, they are involved with the farmers from the onset, helping them find the right seeds and fertilizers. Above everything, Agro-Fresh is into organic produce strictly because that is where the biggest market among the locals is.
"What has happened is that when I was planting recently, following the start of the rains, Agro-Fresh asked me what I needed, and they provided it, because I did not have all the money I needed for the new season after the losses I incurred before. So, once the harvesting is done, and the produce is being taken, whatever Agro-Fresh gave me in terms of logistics, will be offset so that they also recover their money," Mbunanazo said.
A host of farmers out there struggle because of lack of finance to plant new crops. According to Heifer International's recent Uganda Covid-19 impact report, incomes of 97 per cent of small-scale farmers have been grossly affected.
More than 87 per cent of those farmers that have been surveyed confessed that since March 2020, their income had dropped from $30 (Shs 110,000) a month to a mere $13 (Shs 47,000). However, Laban Musinguzi, the CEO of Agro-Fresh Uganda Limited, said they are determined to change that, which is why they are going ahead to co-opt more farmers into their company in order to enable them find markets efficiently.
Right now, 200 smallholder farmers provide the produce that Agro-Fresh has up for sale and delivery.
"Our website, for starters, will be a connection for consumers in Kampala and Entebbe, who can order whatever they want and we deliver immediately at the standard market prices," Musinguzi said.
As an agricultural supplying company, Musinguzi underlined that they sell fresh, clean and organic agricultural produce from the garden from as low as Shs 5,000 ($1.4).
And particularly during this Christmas season, where traffic is also bound to be such an inconvenience around markets, using the Agro-Fresh website at www.agrofreshug.com may be the saving grace. But for a farmer like Mbunanazo, the support from Agro-Fresh has breathed new life into his business.