The Uganda Experience


"20 degrees, is considered T-shirt weather in the Netherlands. In Uganda however this is cause for a thick winter jacket and sometimes even gloves, which you would only find a Dutch wearing on the skiing slopes. When I arrived here 4 months ago this was a very funny sight to me, however nowadays I even catch myself being cold at such temperatures, choosing to wear a sweater over my T-shirt. The way I adapted quickly to the temperatures is metaphorical for my overall adaptation to Uganda." Intern Douglas Stibbe wrote a blog about his experiences in Uganda,

When I arrived begin September, I remember leaving the airport in Entebbe and the crowds of taxi and boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers swarming around to get my attention and hopefully transport the white guy to his hotel. On the way to the hotel I remember being overwhelmed by the hectic on the road, the smells, the hundreds of small shops selling mainly the same items and just the general ambiance. That first night in the hotel I remember thinking about how my freedom to move around and do things in Uganda would be limited, and how I would spend most time out of the office confined.

Writing this blog roughly 4 months have passed since I walked out of Entebbe airport. The opposite of what was anticipated that first night became the case, I have come to embrace all the previously mentioned things which overwhelmed me so much on arrival. I feel very free to move around, and have made friends with many people in town and within the neighborhood. Just down the road of the house is a boda spot at which always the same boda drivers wait, they have become friends and move me around most places in my free time. They give a huge amount of freedom to go wherever I want, like for example the many different restaurants and shops around town. Besides pork and Rolex allot of fruits and vegetables are on the menu, I’m still amazed every time I eat them by the overwhelming flavors and textures compared to what can be found in a supermarket in the Netherlands. It makes the fruits in the Netherlands seem like fake-reproduction products, which are even sold at ten times the price I pay here. In general on return going shopping will probably be disappointing experience in many aspects.

My assignment in Uganda is to work with the dairy cooperatives in terms of business planning and practices, and work wise in Uganda there has also been a steady adaptation process. On arrival the initially created plans of approach were soon discarded and the work pace of people around here acted like a stone tied to my leg holding me back. The business culture I am used to was nowhere to be found and the mentality was reactive rather than proactive. For example when visiting the cooperatives that I’m assisting it is common that the participants show up two hours later, if at all. When they do show up, because of my skin color the questions about transport facilitation, allowances and soda soon come up. Of course I’m there to assist them and my guidance and advice should already be valued, so I turn down their requests. To which in some cases the people who just arrived late and directly started demanding for things leave again. This is something I have learned to just ignore and see it as their loss rather than getting frustrated about. Being calm and relaxed is the only way to deal with these things, and I have adapted myself towards the local pace when working with the cooperatives. A pace when once used to it can be quite comfortable, but another thing I’m worried about adapting back to upon return.

In terms of assignment progress there are several things which are going and I’m in progress towards completing before return. The first one being the cooperative Rukaka, at which the main shortcoming was their member loyalty and rather than being a cooperative, I would classify as a milk trading center. This because 80% of their milk was brought by middle men of which the cooperative had no clue who the farmers were. So together with the manager there is collaboration towards getting these middle men to share where they get their milk from, and create a loyalty scheme for the farmers. The loyalty scheme will be based on the milk collection records, from which the coefficient can be drawn from the standard deviation, the average daily milk volume and number of milk deliveries. Using that figure the farmers can be ranked, which in turn can be used to rewards the loyal farmers with for example access to the trainings offered by SNV on dairy farming, milk cans or any other farm equipment. Besides monetary rewards, awarding and naming and shaming of farmers is also in the program for the AGM.

The second thing in progress is the creating of a business plan for a farm input shop, one of the larger cooperatives here in the area has their own drug shop. The drug shop provides the members with discounted drugs for their animals, this shop has been a success and due to demand from the farmers the cooperative is now looking into building a new structure to expand the drug shop and add other farm inputs, like poles and barbed wire for paddocking for example. Within the new structure the farm input shop will be housed, a kitchen will also be located to make yoghurt. I’m also involved with the business plan of making the Yoghurt together with YOBA for life a NGO also operating here.

From analysis of the sector here and experiences at the cooperatives, one thing which came to light was the competitiveness of the cooperatives towards the milk middle men. This because the milk middle men pick their milk from the farm and will secure their supply from that farm for a month by paying a large sum upfront to the farmer. In order to combat this another business plan is in progress at which the cooperative collects milk using a youth of one of the farmers. In this scheme the cooperative buys a motorcycle at once from a trader, a youth then collects milk in the morning using that motorcycle, through the milk collected the youth pays for the motorcycle, owning the motorcycle themselves after a period of time. In the afternoon the youth is free to use the motorcycle to make their own business. That is a very brief description of the scheme, but hopefully it will allow especially poorer, rural cooperatives to compete with the traders, by offering the service of on-farm milk collection.

Work, people, culture and the many more things Uganda has to offer have really becoming something I have grown to like. I recently spoke to my uncle, which also spent a large amount of time in Africa and he told me Africa, you either hate it or love it. And I fully agree with him, after the initial shocks and frustrations of the many differences here with what a westerner is used to, you also see the beauty of the continent. In order however to see the beauty one needs adapt and go with the flow, mpora mpora (take it easy)

Douglas Stibbe, 21-12-2016 

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