I realize I do not naturally have the most intuitive business sense. I make decisions based on empathy and understanding of others. But it was good for me to be in on the conversation for the direction of the valuable hoop houses, which the Noble Research Institute constructed at the end of last year.
Currently growing in the hoop houses are tomatoes, which can flourish there away from the torrential rains that come in Uganda's rainy season. But the vegetable farm management is having a hard time knowing what other crops can be rotated into the houses that will be both more feasible than planting outdoors and will add nutrients to the soil within the house. Nothing that is demanded on the market was coming to mind.
The director of sustainability, Randy, has a relationship with a plant science researcher and professor at Makerere University, the largest university in Kampala. Okello Robert came out to the farm to inspect the four constructed hoop houses on Watoto's vegetable farm to help us determine a good direction for Watoto agriculture. What venture would be the most profitable, the most demanded and the most doable?
Cynthia, Okello Robert, Ian and Randy consider options for the hoop houses.
Okello Robert has connections to a local market for grafted fruit trees. Those who demand such high quality trees would be the government, hospitals, producers, etc. The cost to produce one grafted tree should be around 2,000 shillings, and the selling price would be around 5,000 shillings. What a profit in a niche market! Ian worried about the training of the workers to perform successful grafts, but Okello Robert committed to offering training and weekly inspection of the products. Okello guesses that one hoop house could hold 10,000 tree plants. And according to Okello, the "seriousness" of that type of farming will bring respect in the industry and other opportunities for revenue collection.
While this is definitely outside the comfort zone of many of the farm workers and those who donate their time to Watoto, it could be a very interesting direction for the organization. I've noticed that Watoto agriculture has usually made business decisions based on what was donated or who from another country is willing to donate their time and efforts. But this is a decision based on financial security, local connections and demand outside the orphanage. The goal is to increase self-sustainability for Watoto ... Could this be a start?
Emily Jost is a 2015 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Jost is from Edmond, Oklahoma, and is in her final semester in the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on sustainable development.