In spite of what the title might suggest, we’re not going to tell you the story of a Walt Disney princess who found the prince of her dreams. Our heroine is Merab, a sweet and charismatic young woman from Uganda who I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing. Our featured adventure is her Generation Food journey and her metamorphosis into a successful businesswoman, and beyond. Let’s start from the beginning.
Merab was walking along the street in Mbale, Uganda when her attention was caught by a bright green Rikolto billboard. ‘Sustainable agribusinesses’, it said. Those three words triggered a flow of thoughts in her head. ‘What does it mean? Can I contribute to making my own city more sustainable? Can I encourage sustainable agriculture?’ She immediately wanted to know more about it.
What does it mean? Can I contribute to making my own city more sustainable? Can I encourage sustainable agriculture?
That’s how she discovered Generation Food , a project that supports young people who want to start or enhance their own businesses and reduce the global ‘food footprint’. At the time, she was growing and selling onions on her family’s farm, but she didn’t hesitate to seize this new, challenging opportunity. She applied. She was selected. ‘I didn’t expect it. I was so excited and eager to start.’ She was still unaware of just what she would achieve in less than a year.
Two hundred peers participated in the first phase of the project. Many unfamiliar faces were brought together for two intense days of workshops, united by their willingness to bring their projects alive. They shared their ideas and received their first introduction to business management. ‘I learned to value my business. I learned how important it is to record expenses and gains, but also to expand my horizons and dream bigger. When I pitched my project in front of the jury, I gained hope.
Only the most motivated were selected for the next phase. Merab spent six months learning accounting, market analysis, strategic planning, and communication, and also how to create a strong network, lead a team and be oriented towards problem-solving. The more she learned, the sharper her business idea became.
Today, Merab runs the Mebs Spice Onion company. She sells onions, onion juice and onion rings to private businesses, restaurants and even some school canteens. Five of her friends, who started out as volunteers, were hired as employees this year. ‘My business grew fast. I even had to find other onion suppliers. Today, I’m in touch with so many people and I feel more connected to my community,’ she says with determination. ‘When I meet the farmers, I share with them some tips on how to produce organic fertilisers, and I encourage my peers to follow my steps. I want to create connection by sharing my passion.’
When I meet the farmers, I share with them some tips on how to produce organic fertilisers, and I encourage my peers to follow my steps. I want to create connection by sharing my passion.
At Rikolto, we strongly believe that the energy and tenacity of young people like Merab can bring about the changes we want to see in the food system. This is why the Generation Food project does not stand alone, but forms part of the Good Food for Cities programme.
In co-creation with universities, companies, farmers and city governments, Rikolto develops ‘from farm to fork’ business models to facilitate the formulation of sustainable urban food policies at city level, such as those in Quito, Arusha or Da Nang.
It’s within this framework that we aim to bring the voices of a community of young passionate food entrepreneurs to the table at policy debates. Their passion and spirit of sharing must have an enabling environment to flourish. Together, we can create initiatives and opportunities to support their dreams and make them a reality.