Rugyeyo Farm Update: It is 5 am in Uganda right now. I am having trouble sleeping. Some thoughts are running through my mind. So it just struck me. Why not share? You may be wondering what this has got to do with farming. Just bear with me for a minute.
You see, my first job was working for my mom vending bread scones or buns as they used to be called. In one of our local languages they referred to as “mwana akaaba”- the baby is crying (for bread I guess). I used to walk around the neighborhood, knocking on doors at tea time to sell my fresh smelling eats. I threw my whole life into doing this job that I even earned a nickname ‘Buns’ from my friends. Eventually, the market expanded to the local shops. None of these were bulk buyers though. In fact if I ever got any big orders it was not more than ten. On the one off occasion we got larger orders, my mum took over. Otherwise we had to do small retail sales but over time the amounts accumulated.
This business never lasted long enough to grow into a confectionery. My mom’s oven started to break down often. Supply became inconsistent. Customers were disappointed. Some of them found other options. Then the war to remove Idi Amin as President of Uganda came. My mum’s bread business went.
Now, don’t think my old woman went into this as a business enterprise, nicely planned & well thought out with spreadsheets, business plans & all. No. This was a single mother who had 3 of her own younger sisters to take through school, two nieces to raise & two of her own sons to look after. That’s seven people including her. This was on her salary as what would be the equivalent of a receptionist today. My mother got pregnant with me just after finishing her O-Levels (Grade10 or Year 11). After that she went to town & got a job. That was it. As time went by, her salary couldn’t cope & the economy of the 70s & 80s collapsed. It took with it her ability to provide. To survive she took to selling snacks & drinks at her office. The only employee apart from herself she could afford was me. That’s how she made extra money & that’s how we went to school. This was not entrepreneurship. It was the art of survival.
Later on, I got a job counting & packing newspapers at New Vision. I did this at night while studying for a law degree during the day at Makerere University. My supervisors at this job were of modest education. This was such a low position even cleaners & tea girls treated us like what goes into a toilet. But we needed the money. So perseverance. After about two years, I took on the same job at The Monitor & added to it the distribution of papers in the morning. I started dealing with newspaper vendors. Most of them were small traders of very humble means. Newspapers are not big ticket items. Copy sales are a trial in patience of biblical proportions. It is one at a time. Media business is not the glamour you see. It is the patient disciplined process of accumulation & miserly spending. You have to make the coins add up to a fortune. And they do. When our vendors come to pay for supplies, it is not with sealed brand new notes or big cheques or shiny credit cards or bitcoin. It is with bulky dirty bank notes of small denominations, even coins. We have learnt not to despise them. When they go into our bank account, over time they become millions. We become rich.
I now see that all of this was to prepare me for my 1st own real business, Rugyeyo Farm. Selling matooke (bananas/plantain)is exactly the same as selling newspapers to vendors or hawking bread door to door in your neighborhood. I have to take instructions from the mamas who buy from me in bulk. They have the last word on price & pay me in dirty notes. I take their money to the bank & keep it. Over the last one year I have watched it accumulate & grow. I sit with them & speak their language even though I am a corporate executive of a big firm. To survive & then thrive, u have to do what it takes.
My past prepared me for the hard work of farming. The humility of door to door selling means you don’t have to care about the hardscrabble image of a farmer. Sleeping on your feet on a factory floor teaches you the patience of waiting for crops to become money. Accepting the authority of those who u think are below you, enables you to get results out of farmworkers. Dealing with newspapers vendors has taught me how to work the women who buy my bananas. Working for Vision Group has showed me how to build a good business by accumulating small earnings into a big fortume
I have come to believe that every experience in life is a preparation for you to succeed in future. What that future is at that particular time of the experience may not be immediately clear. But it does become eventually. If you don’t learn the lessons from it, you won’t apply them. I have learnt from this past experience to respect people of humble means especially where they pay me for my work. I have learnt to respect earnings no matter what form they come (never despise the form or amount). Be disciplined. For my part I now see the value of these experiences. You don’t have to wait as long as I did. Just know that whatever you are going thru now, even if it is terminal, it is so that the future can be better.
It is now 6.30 am. Let me see if I can sleep some more.
Chief Executive Officer – Vision Group