‘I like eating natural, chemical-free food. But the information I kept getting from farmers in Uganda was that most of them use chemicals to produce vegetables. I was so disappointed, thinking that I was eating healthily, but instead getting chemicals in my body. It’s then that I started thinking: what can I do?’ says Hope Dina.
The 29-year-old is one of 200 young entrepreneurs from Mbale and Gulu who joined the Generation Food programme to turn their business ideas into reality. They share a passion for shaping their local food environment and the drive to create more opportunities in the agri-food sector for young Ugandans.
Ten years ago, while studying, Hope started thinking about a solution for the over-use of chemicals in agriculture in Uganda. The seed for creating her own organic fertilisers and pesticides was planted: she even researched macro-nutrients and started making some trial samples. But her course work slowly overshadowed her business idea.
Fast forward to February 2022. Hope, now working as a sociologist in Mbale, stumbled across a call for applicants to join the Generation Food programme. This reminded her of her unfinished business. She submitted her business idea and was one of the 200 young entrepreneurs who were selected to join a two-day hackathon to refine their business ideas, and afterwards attend a two-week bootcamp.
'Generation Food ignited the fire that was there within me. I had the fire and the passion, but there were no motivating factors around me. Through the training, I got the right skills to start up a business, to make sales… I really needed to put these skills to use.'
Through our Generation Food programme, we support the dreams of young people like Hope who want to start or enhance their own businesses and reduce our ‘foodprint’. They bring new winds of change and innovation into our food systems, from the ground up. With funding from YOUCA, the DOEN Foundation and Stichting Gillès, we have set up food incubators in Leuven (Belgium), Arusha (Tanzania), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Mbale and Gulu (Uganda) and Quito (Ecuador). The initiative is part of Rikolto’s global Good Food for Cities programme, aimed at making urban food environments and food supply chains more conducive to healthy, sustainable and nutritious diets for all citizens.
By the time Hope was selected for the incubation phase, she made sure that she attended the training with the first samples of her organic fertilisers and pesticides. ‘For me, this was really a turning point. Moving out of my comfort zone, producing a sample, was like a breakthrough. By the time I was selected as one of the top 20 enterprises in the Generation Food programme, I had already taken the sample to the government laboratories, so that they could confirm the nutrients contained and give me a certification to start producing.’
For Hope, marketing her organic fertilisers and pesticides is the next challenge. ‘Somehow, I was reluctant to talk to people about my product. But in the Generation Food training, they also demonstrated how to make sales: you list your target farmers, you call them to make appointments and tell them about your product, and if they don’t take your product… it’s okay. They might remember it next time. I lacked the confidence to do that, so it made everything easier for me.’ She started to create awareness and has already lined up a number of farmers interested in buying her product once it comes into the market – by the end of November 2022.
As a sociologist, Hope pays a lot of attention to the community aspect of marketing:
‘There might be many of us who really love nature and want to preserve and protect it.’
She wants to build a team of organic farmers in her country. To convince more farmers to join, she is setting up her own demonstration garden: there is no better evidence then showing how the product works on her own crops.
Most young people in Uganda don’t like agriculture. ‘They think it’s a dirty game. But I believe that, when they hear my story, they will see me as a role model. I know there are many young people who have ideas, but they might not have self-belief. My story can inspire them to turn their ideas into reality,’ says Hope. She’s also a firm believer that having your own business as well as your job is a powerful strategy for young people, to enable them to take matters into their own hands.
But she knows first-hand that a business idea cannot come to fruition if the context is not right. She hopes the government and private companies will also hear her story and that of her peers, so that they take them up and give direct funding to young entrepreneurs, to encourage those with skills to put them into practice.
'My big plan is to capture the East African market, from Uganda to Kenya, Tanzania and Congo. They also use a lot of chemicals. I have a big dream that I will build that group of organic farmers, not only in Uganda, but in Africa at large. If I had not taken ten years to design my product, I might have been tackling that market already. But it’s never too late.'