Kampala is a city bursting with energy and enterprise.
From dawn the city is on the move. Far from the image of sprawling African cities, it is tidy, with well-maintained footpaths and clean drainage ditches. The climate is perfect – in a few decades hence, you could imagine that this will be a place where elderly Europeans will move in retirement.
But social services have a way to go yet. It’s the big issue for the elections in February next year.
Education is prized above all else. School children walk long distances, pushing off early in the morning in their neat uniforms. Schoolyards fill up from before 7am and literacy levels are as good as anywhere.
It is reasonable to ask what an aid agency is doing in this environment. And it is true that quite a number of NGOs have upped sticks and moved on in recent years as economic development gallops forward.
Walking away was a real option for GOAL but it was clear that the Karamoja region, in particular, was inevitably going to face further adversity in the years ahead. The question was whether there was an argument for sticking around and seeing if we could do anything to make such adversity less likely.
Our team here began to research the market system that operated in the region. What made the local economy so susceptible to adverse climate shocks? Were there any steps that could be taken to alleviate that susceptibility? If there were, was GOAL the right organisation to take those steps? Could we leverage our contacts to work for the market system? It was essential to understand all of the local context in order to generate evidence that would help design programmes.
"We had to acknowledge that, barring an emergency, the old direct intervention paradigm was over."
We quickly discovered a few things. Firstly, there was an enormous appetite within GOAL to engage in this work as it had the potential to directly impact poverty. Secondly, we had to acknowledge that, barring an emergency, the old direct intervention paradigm was over. Handing out seeds was not going to drive poverty reduction – if anything, it would damage local markets. The WFP have been in the region since 1960 and still people are hungry.
The research revealed that the region had what is described as a “thin economy”. Mostly people lived off the (very under-used) land and traded little. The local economy lacked very basic services like reliable roads, technology, access to finance and high quality agricultural inputs – the definition of a thin economy.
We began to gather up players who might be able to beef things up a bit.
Three of the major players were Microsoft, Root Capital and FitUganda. To cut a long story short, FitUganda (with help from Microsoft) developed a mobile app providing critical information for farmers and Root could potentially provide access to finance.
We met Robert Kintu, MD of FitUganda - Microsoft (introduced to him by GOAL) has improved his technological offering so that external analysis that questioned the viability of his business proposition 12 months ago now affirms its enormous potential. Already 1 million Ugandan farmers are registered for their market and weather information service.
We were also introduced to Denis Timo of Mega Industries, a regional buyer of agricultural produce. GOAL linked him to farmers’ associations in remote parts of the region. Mega appointed agents to gather in produce, 35 bags of millet flour per week per agent being the target.
We also visited the farmers association under a sausage tree. There were 30 of them and the new access to regional buyers meant better prices and forced them to improve quality.
GOAL staff have put a lot of work into this project and were cheering to the rafters when the farmers told us of their plans to move up the value chain. They are going to dry the Cassava root themselves and buy a mill to prepare it as flour and thus secure higher prices.
Not only that, GOAL had introduced the farmers to the local bank and for the first time farmers had been able to secure small loans (typically $300) to access tillage services and labour. They showed us the text messages they were receiving from FitUganda with weather forecasts.
Thus a new ecosystem has been created with better prices and better yields for farmers.
At scale, this has significant impact
"At scale it creates resilient communities better prepared for climate and other shocks."
At scale it creates resilient communities better prepared for climate and other shocks. It provides young people with employment opportunities (75% of Ugandans are under 25) thus reducing urbanization. And of course, it is sustainable and ultimately GOAL will have no role.
When the Mastercard Foundation announced funding to stimulate under-developed agri-business systems we knew that we were well placed to apply. Astonishingly, out of a hundred applicants, the GOAL-led consortium won out. We have started this $21m programme to encourage young people to see the opportunities of working in agri-business.
The regional economy is primed for an injection of economic services and supports.
GOAL might just have found a way to continue its mission to not just alleviate poverty but prevent the types of shocks that have kept regions like Karamoja from fulfilling its potential.
By Barry Andrews, GOAL CEO.