Alex Isiagi became a key supplier as part of our enterprise programme in Uganda – and his family’s farming fortunes have been transformed.
Alex Isiagi’s early years were spent like those of so many others from subsistence farming families in Uganda – living in a small, grass-thatched house shared by his entire family.
His parents, farmers in the Bukedea District, were able to eke out only a low income and Alex had to leave school early. “I joined my parents in agriculture,” he says. “We used to grow cotton and maize on the family land. But we earned so little from the small produce we were realizing from my parents’ acreage.”
But that was all about to change: “A friend, a local businessman, encouraged me to try sorghum farming,” Alex recalls.
Sorghum is a plant related to sugar cane that is tolerant to heat and drought. It is used for human and animal food, biomass – and making beer.
Realizing that maize and cotton were not yielding enough, some local farmers had already taken up sorghum growing. Alex followed suit and by 2004, he had given up on other crops and focused on cultivating sorghum full time. Within three years, he had made enough money to venture into commercial farming.
This is when Alex was able to benefit from the Local and Enterprise Agriculture Program (LEAP) set up by our business in Uganda, Nile Breweries Ltd (NBL). “The exposure and partnership between NBL, Enterprise Uganda and the International Fertilizer Development Center went a great way in enhancing my venture,” he says.
“With sorghum, we were assured of stable prices from NBL as they use Epuripur – a type of sorghum used as a raw material in manufacturing beer – for their Eagle brands. NBL was able to pre-finance me and we developed a good working relationship.”
His next step was to expand beyond his family land and hire other fields. Within a few years, he was in such a strong financial position that he was able to buy most of the land he had previously hired.
Alex is chairman of a local umbrella association for sorghum farmers, an NBL initiative that was set up in 2010 in conjunction with Enterprise Uganda. The association has 350 members, supports 3,000 famers and directly employs 40 people. Alex is proud of what the association has achieved: “I’ve seen this association grow from one small rented room to owning a building, warehouse, processing machine, two tractors and four trucks.”
With these shared resources, association members are able to reduce labor and transport costs at harvest time.
Growing sorghum is not without its challenges; irregular rainfall and damage caused by weaver birds can contribute to production losses. But Alex and other association members are pleased to be among the many thousands of farmers in Uganda who are benefiting from the LEAP program.
The lives of Alex and his family have been transformed, as he describes: “I am now able to meet all my needs in life. I constructed a house for my parents; and, most importantly, my 10 children – four of whom are in university – receiving the best education this country can offer.”