It is late afternoon when I get to Ubuntu Foundation in Kirowoza, Mukono District. It is a chilly day as the clouds gather threatening to rain, but inside this home garage-turned-office, it is business as usual.
Grace Julius Ssembatya, the Ubuntu chairman, sits on a white plastic chair as he listens attentively to a man seated across in a big old sofa. The man is Peter Kavuma, 25, a farmer and resident from Kirowoza, Mukono. He is one of the more than 100 Youths in Agriculture under the UBUNTU umbrella; he is seeking Shs200, 000 to help him re-build his piggery.
“I need this money to buy four piglets. I can start with these and with time I will have my business back on track,” Kavuma says.
Kavuma had 30 pigs but late last June, a swine flu outbreak in the area left him with no pig. As he laments, this came as a huge set-back. Nonetheless, he is not discouraged. “I have six goats and three piglets now, and with the four other piglets I hope to acquire through Ubuntu’s funding, I will have seven which is enough to work with for the start.”
Initially, he came seeking Shs.500,000, but he could not get that amount given that there are other youths who need similar help, hence the need to ration funds for the benefit of many. If Kavuma’s piggery project goes well as he hopes, he will have to give back two female piglets to the organization. These will be given to others who are interested in pig farming. Those youths shall also do the same when their projects thrive, creating a chain that spreads to several others.
What is Ubuntu?
“Ubuntu” is a Zulu word for togetherness and humaneness. It is a philosophy Ssembatya, 25, founder of the organisation got acquainted with at Makerere University, where he is studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Ethics and Human Rights.
“According to the history of human rights in South Africa, it is with the Ubuntu spirit that the people were able to fight for their rights and eventually reclaim their country.
Looking at Uganda today, it is safe to say agriculture is in shambles. People are no longer attracted to agriculture because of the so many constraints that responsible authorities have failed to address.” he explains.
It is with this motivation that in early 2013, Ssembatya started the Ubuntu Foundation. The idea is that it would require the UBUNTU spirit to reclaim agriculture and make it attractive especially to the youths. The reason he chose to focus on the youths is because of the high rate of unemployment, yet many youths do not consider the option of turning agriculture into their means of livelihood.
“Some youths do not consider agriculture as a paying venture. My parents are farmers. That is how they managed to see me through school. At University I pay for my tuition using the money I earn from rearing pigs and growing coffee. This is the reason I want to open the eyes of the youth to farming.” Ssembatya notes.
Ubuntu Foundation which began with five now has 107 members across 13 sub-counties in Mukono District, all farmers. This number is still growing as the organisation is still bringing in young farmers under the Ubuntu umbrella. They have also reached out to other youths that were not into farming and inspired them to join the group.
One youth, one piglet
Among the many initiatives to make the youth embrace agriculture, it is through their “One youth, one piglet” campaign that they have perhaps managed to reach the biggest number. Kenneth Mubiru, 22, Ubuntu’s chief programmes coordinator says this campaign is among the first ones that they launched.
“The campaign talks of piglets but we also give kids and occasionally calves. The idea is to ensure that every youth who has the interest and ability to keep an animal gets the opportunity to do so.” Mubiru says.
Ubuntu gives the youth specific animals whose rearing can enable them generate income. And these are only provided after the youth have been trained in the best practices in animal husbandry to ensure success of their business. This is very important because, according to Mubiru, successful projects are the backbone of the campaign’s multiplier aspect. “The Ubuntu spirit dictates that when one’s project is a success, they should give back an animal or two for us to give to others. For instance when we give you two goats and two years later you have seven goats, you can give back a goat or two kids. For this to happen the projects need to be a success.”
A platform for knowledge sharing
But Ubuntu organisation is not only giving out goats and pigs, they also provide the required knowledge and skills to young farmers. Ssembatya notes that the reason many youth have been frustrated with farming is because they get into it without the knowledge on how to go about it.
“People who have approached farming as a gamble have failed. That is why we always make our farmers appreciate the significance of knowledge in agriculture even before we hold the workshops and training sessions.” he says.
John Bosco Ssentongo, 69, of Kirowoza urban farm school is one of the experts who work closely with the Ubuntu youth. He is usually invited to attend training workshops and share the knowledge and lessons learned over a 40year experience in agriculture with the young farmers. Occasionally however, the Ubuntu members go to be trained at his demonstration farm.
“Many youths lack the land for farming. That is why I train them in urban farming by showing them that even when all you have is a verandah, farming can still go on. Otherwise I have taught them poultry farming. When they come to my farm, I take them through how to build chicken houses, how to handle chicks, brooding and deworming and many other aspects of poultry.” Ssentongo explains.
Recently, the members were trained in mushrooms growing and water harvesting.
And for Alex Sseruwo, 23, Ubuntu agro youth manager in Kisoga, Mukono, the water harvesting training came in handy. He was able to use the knowledge in his tomato and vegetable growing.
“I used to wait and align my activities with the rainy season. But now I can harvest enough water to allow me grow tomatoes and vegetables all year long. Better still the organisation has assisted us to market the produce.”
Together, the youths have merged their networks and have always helped each other find market. It is through Ubuntu that Sseruwo has always been able to find market for his tomatoes and vegetables at Kiko Valley market in Mukono town. Better still, he is able to sell at the best possible price because most of the suppliers are under Ubuntu and always agree to sell at a particular price.
Despite the progress made, it has not been a smooth road. Ssembatya says their biggest challenge has remained the lack of sufficient funds to support the several projects aimed at empowering the youth in agriculture. “We would like to be in position to provide our members with tools and may be provide them with high quality seeds.”
Apart from the financial constraints, the other major problem is the youth who attend workshops but do not have the commitment to follow up with starting agribusiness. These have often frustrated the organisation’s efforts.
“We have often given animals to such youths only for the animals to die because these youths did not take good care of the animals. This frustrates projects like the ‘One youth, one piglet’ campaign.” Mubiru points out.
Nonetheless, Ubuntu Foundation remains committed to working with the youth and hope to push the Ubuntu spirit beyond Mukono and have youths elsewhere adopt the idea and get involved in agriculture.