We are delighted to announce that Phase 1 of development at our new 300- acre test farm site is underway in Mbarara, Uganda.  We completed the clearing, plowing, harrowing and seeding just in time for the rainy season, which came a little early this year. Our experienced farm managers Dan Killimani and Dan Murunga have made tremendous headway with their specialized equipment to prepare the soil for planting. “The rains came a bit early,” said our Farm Manager Dan M. “So we are a week late in planting, but with two irrigation ponds full to the brim, and another pond close by, we are not worried about losing the rain before harvest.”

The Mbarara Farm site is a perfect example of how our “Hub & Spoke” Model works at the World Food Bank. Beginning with a small model farm “the hub” is operated by professional farm managers using the best inputs, technology and post-harvest processes.  The “spoke”, in this case, is a 350-farmer coop, which uses all of our input channels and technology. We also provide training on the model farm to help farmers increase their productivity, and we guarantee offtake. Working closely with our team at Mbarara, we expect to expand on the initial 300 acres through the end of 2018 and beyond.

To provide more background on the activities at Mbarara, we began by working closely with our soya advisors from Makerere University and WFB soya specialist Henry Musoke, who selected seed well-known for producing successful crops of soya – in this case, MakSoy 3N seed inoculated with Rhizobium and planted at 50X150mm spacing.  Our soil tests showed that the site had relatively good soil, but that it was in need of in need of a mild PNK fertilizer mix, which we applied.

Using seed, soil, and weather data,  our conservative forecasts predict that we will produce about 800 kilograms per acre, but we are targeting closer to 1,200 kgs per acre and expecting to generate a total value somewhere between $300 and $480 per acre. While maize (which makes up two-thirds of the property) brings in $630/acre, it is more of a liquid cash crop with a lower nutrition profile.  We plan to grow future varieties of beans and possibly upland rice, which boast value in both price and nutrition-value.

Our satellite biomass and weather information systems partners are providing our field team with weekly SMS data feeds containing specific crop and rainfall guidance. Our partners at aWhere and MUIIS combine their agronomic and weather expertise and help us prepare for pest and moisture events.  They have also assessed our rainfall risk using 35 years of historic data and provided feedback that we can expect adequate rainfall, as is typical for the region. They recommended against weather index insurance, as the area traditionally has enough rainfall and the cost was not warranted.

The 25 local hires clearing the rocks from the field will increase to 125 in future days.  The property has been laid out in sections, with and each section being supervised by a trained agronomist. We are documenting progress through statistics, photos and videos to demonstrate the high productivity our commercial operations can yield. In the next season, we will expand the successes from Mbarara to the 5,000-acre Hoima farm, launching a massive scale created by the commercial Hub.

From this “Hub”, the “Spoke” part of our model comes from the hundreds and thousands of surrounding family farmers who have land but are typically not highly productive. These farmers are growing lower quality produce and have limited or no access to markets.  

Initially, we had expected that we would to need to market our model in order to engage farmers and leverage our commercial operations.  But to our surprise hundreds of farmers from surrounding areas heard of us through word of mouth and have dropped by Mbarara asking to join our work.  We believe we will see more than 150 new farmers join us next season.

The chair of the local Abesingana Co-op Society, Mr. Kahamba, told us, “Farmers have been burnt in past by others coming in and offering false promises of support, but here they can see the professional and efficient way the land is being developed and the seeds are being planted, and they will be watching to see how Mbarara’s crops fare.”  While the farmers are risk averse, he believes that he feels that more than 150 will join us next season.  

Training sessions have been set up to bring farmers to our Mbarara Hub so they can see best practices and get advice from our seed and quality experts, farm managers and trading specialists.  In this training, farmers will see the SMS feeds we receive, our fertilizer application standards, our post-harvest management and they will hear our takeout offers. Through the participation of these new farmers, we expect to be able to expand our 300-acre farm to 1,000 to 2,000 acres, thereby allowing us to increase our grain supplies and make these small family farms highly productive and lucrative – a win-win situation for all that is also sustainable without the need for grants or aid.

We are raising funds to start our 5,000-acre Hoima farm in July, with two further Hub & Spoke operations to be started in Uganda in Season 1 of 2019, (one in the East, and one in the North).  Development agencies such as the World Bank, African Development Bank, IFC and AGRA are impressed with the model and the fast- paced adoption by local farm groups and are considering financially supporting the programs.  

Edgar Kakuru, World Food Bank’s Uganda Country Manager said, “If we can show farmers that blended commercial and family farm operations can work together to improve productivity and quality and increase farmer income so they can better feed their children, put them through school and improve their health, we will have succeeded”.