says Katula Mohammad proudly. "I have been farming it since I was supported by Swisscontact’s Local Skills Development for Youth (LSDY) project and I have no regrets at all. Initially, I used to farm maize and cassava for both subsistence and commercial purposes. I would make approximately CHF 160 – 214 a year, but this was not enough to support my needs. I’m an avid reader of a farmer’s guide that is published in a common weekly newspaper. One afternoon while seated under a banana tree and perusing through the guide, I came across an article on hot pepper farming that completely changed how viewed agribusiness. I became extremely curious and wondered if it was the crop that would make me rich."
Katula had not always had a keen interest in agribusiness. In fact, he was very interested in studying and had struggled through odd jobs to pay for his A-level studies and first university semester. He had begun studying Business Administration but could not afford to continue. As an orphan, he had little support from his relatives who could not imagine spending large amounts of money on his education while they still had their families to take care of. He resorted to farming on the land he inherited from his father upon his death. He planted maize and cassava because it was a common practice among his clansmen. He was hesitant about farming another crop as he did not want to make a bad investment and burn his fingers. However, this article opened his eyes to a new possibility of success. He researched the hot pepper crop but could not fully commit to planting it as he lacked the skills and initial capital required. He was newly married with a baby on the way and could not take the risk of investing his hard-to-come-by pennies in a venture that he wasn’t certain would pay off.
"One day, I met my childhood friend, Andrew Kagwa and as we caught up, he mentioned that he was planting hot pepper for a living. This has got to be a sign,’ I thought to myself. ‘He explained that he began the venture after engaging with the Swisscontact LSDY Project Coordinator. I was very eager to join this initiative but after probing, realised it was not feasible as his learning group was already filled to capacity. He promised to alert me once he got word of the project making callouts again."
A disappointed Katula walked home that day deep in thought. "It felt like a carrot had been dangled in front of me then pulled away. "I had a baby on the way, and I wasn’t sure what I would do to provide for my family." A few months passed by and Katula received the call he had long been waiting for. The project was expanding to other sub-counties within Mayuge District and was carrying out an awareness drive. "I remember it like yesterday as it was a dream come true for me. I registered myself for participation, joined Bivamuntuyo Baitambogwe Farmers Association, was taken through career guidance and began participating in the very engaging training sessions," recalls Katula.
His first stint at farming hot pepper was marred with challenges. The land he had sown his seeds had too much water and they rotted. Luckily, he had saved some seeds Tropical Dynasty, the off-taker, had loaned him and was able to replant. This time, he worked closely with the agronomist who had been assigned by Tropical Dynasty to support the group. After seeking advice, he dug trenches to drain the water from the land.
Within 3 months, the pepper was ready for harvest. He didn’t have to struggle to look for the market as his group had been guaranteed market by Tropical Dynasty. Within the year, he managed to make CHF 400 from the half-acre of land he was farming on. Since he had experienced good results due to the support the LSDY project had provided, he chose to fully focus on hot pepper farming. He used the money he earned to support his family needs, hired a 6-acre piece of land and bought the necessary fertilizers to be used during the next planting phase.
Similar joyous sentiments are shared by Nasuru Mutumwa, a 25-year old father of two. He always dreamt of being an architect, but this never came to be as his parents could not sustain paying for his school fees. He had to drop out after his O-levels. To keep busy, he helped his father on his farm and devotedly tendered to the tomatoes, maize, cassava and potatoes. He heard about the LSDY project through a mobilization exercise by the sub-county officials. He was informed that Swisscontact was looking to empower youth who were school dropouts and unemployed but were only willing to work with groups rather than individuals.
"We formed a group and met the project responsible who introduced us to different business companies. The business company representatives took us through different cost-benefit analysis calculations and after discussions amongst ourselves, our group decided to undertake hot pepper. We signed a 4-year contract with the off-taker Tropical Dynasty. The project facilitated various training sessions which were spread over approximately eight months. We were taken through various training packages like entrepreneurship, financial literacy, communication, safety at work and leadership. Our group even got a fully-dedicated agronomist from Tropical Dynasty who trained us on good agricultural practises and regularly visits our gardens, even today."
After farming on one and a half acres of land, Nasuru was able to make CHF 2,136 from his harvest. He used this money to refund Tropical Dynasty for the seed inputs they had given him at the start of the planting season and Swisscontact for the farm inputs they had bought for him such as watering can, spray pump, spray suit, mask, gloves and gumboots. He also built a pit latrine worth CHF 267 for his family, bought his father a cow, was able to pay school fees at a private school for his first born and hire three additional acres to expand his agribusiness venture.
"I like the approach Swisscontact applies. We learn as we do which makes it more realistic as we are dealing with actual challenges that affect us and not just imagined ones in a classroom setup. Paying back the initial investment also makes us more accountable. I have used the skills I gained not only in agribusiness but also in managing other aspects of my life. My self-esteem has greatly improved. Before I was scared of addressing groups but now I can, and I’ve even been nominated as the secretary of my farmer group and the youth chairperson of my village where I have taught my peers about the importance of saving."
Nasuru’s village group comprises of 30 members who each save CHF 3 a week. His farmer group comprises 25 members and he save CHF 11 a month with them. In 2017, they saved CHF 1,815 and in 2018 approximately CHF 2,269. They shared the money amongst each member based on their annual savings. This was regulated by their customized constitution.