I had a truly inspiring day visiting Send a Cow project near Masaka in Uganda.
A group of 30 farmers underwent 4 years of training, supported by weekly visits from a social worker and agricultural trainer.
From a group living in absolute under-a-dollar-a-day poverty, there are now farmers owning thousands of dollars worth of livestock and selling export crops like coffee.
This education and support, plus the capital grant of one animal per household, has transformed their community.
Although the success relied on a solid base of family and group cohesion, organised labour and animal husbandry, I want to focus on three aspects which have ongoing potential for the community.
1. Record keeping
Yep, data to you and I. Writing daily details of milk yields, crop inputs, market sale prices and even visitor numbers enabled the farmers to measure and improve.
Data also allows farmers to forecast and be inspired. Selling a regular surplus of milk from two cows (after family consumption – yes, they have great teeth!) gave the farmer a regular income of US$3.50 per day at the farm gate.
That is more than a teacher’s salary in Uganda.
With tender care and back-breaking forage harvesting, they now have a calf being reared – and can count just how much that will mean in further milk and profits.
Maybe in 10 years they will be entering yields into a smartphone app, and have market prices forecast automatically.
2. Organic agriculture
Oil derivatives (like diesel and fertiliser) are nearly as expensive in Uganda as the UK – in ridiculous contrast to the local market prices for vegetables.
Efficient farming therefore has to rely on minimal imported inputs, and maximise the local bounty of sun, rain … and manure.
Every precious drop of animal urine is captured – to mix with ash and chilli as an insect repellant for plants – or used neat as a fertiliser.
In dry season, every rainfall is maximised, with lots of mulching of vegetables to prevent evaporation; and with a permaculture approach of shading coffee bushes with banana plants, and vegetables under the coffee.
I am a fan of organic farming for health and environmental reasons, but out here I just do not see an alternative, cost-effective way to increase crop yields.
3. Peer-to-peer lending
Developed-to-developing country lending networks, like Kiva.org, have grown rapidly – but with inevitable problems in vetting funding applications at distance.
What farmers need are equivalents of 19th century Europe’s co-operative societies – where savers and lenders from the same area are brought together.
These farmer groups operate a very effective local system. All members pledge to save every month: from just 1 cent a week. Then any member can ask for a short term (maximum 3 month) loan from the fund – which is now $2000.
The default rate is low – around 2% - as members know the debtors ability to repay, and can monitor progress in person. Plus every debtor has savings in the scheme – so wants to preserve their share of the capital.
Three month loans (and flat 10% interest) make repayments easy to predict – and work in a country where planting to harvest is only 3 months.
Uganda’s government abolished co-operatives in the 1990s when they started sponsoring political campaigns.
But if these lending clubs can grow they could go some way to unlocking the capital that Africa needs to grow.
This post was written by Edward Upton, Founder of Littledata, @eUpton