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Growing deep roots

Growing deep roots

As I enter the head office of the East Africa Dairy Development in Kampala Ben, a middle aged colleague, lifts me from the ground ‘Welcome back!’. Unfortunately we were just standing in the doorpost, so I bump my head. This is just the beginning of a wonderful day full of greetings, exclaims (you look as if you have grown in Holland), teasing (since I’m the only young lady among mainly male colleagues, not all the jokes are suitable to repeat here… ) and stroopwafels (a Dutch specialty which I brought).

I was wonderful to be back in Holland in March with my friends and family, but it is also wonderful to be back in Uganda. I picked up where I had left and started to contact all the yoghurt producing groups throughout the country to be informed about the state of art.

This week I was invited to join a meeting in Butagaya. Although yoghurt volumes in Butagaya are small, approximately 20 liters per week as for now, it is one of my favorite groups. Here I really have the feeling that we work hand in hand, instead of me pulling the group trough the process of setting up a yoghurt business. It was mutual love on the first sight. After the training the group started to call me: ‘We want to start right away (although they did not have packaging material yet), can you bring us some of the starter culture’. I asked if it could wait two weeks, since I was not around. ‘No, you try to come this week!’ (in their mother tongue Ugandans are not used to use the interrogative form, no offence taken). Many of the ideas that I later suggested to all the groups, came originally from the innovative thinking people of Butagaya, for example the use of coolboxes to bike around with the yoghurt and sell it on the streets.

Once again the people of Butagaya are being proactive. The group faces two major hurdles that prevents them from increasing their production volumes. First of all, they lack big milk cans in which to produce the yoghurt. Secondly, they lack their own fridge in which to store the yoghurt. The group has done their research to find the cheapest (yet good quality) options to obtain these items. Furthermore, they found out about a certain government fund, and have gone through a troublesome process in order to meet the preliminary requirements to qualify for this fund. Within two weeks they hope to receive feedback, and hopefully receive funds. Yet meanwhile waiting, they are not sitting back, but now having organized this meeting to talk about fund raising and other options.

The meeting is held among approximately twelve farmers, and I’m invited, along with the member of parliament candidate from the region. Unfortunately the latter one cannot make it due to exams at his university, so he has send his mother to represent him. I have brought chocolates from the Netherlands, and curiously the gathered farmers enjoy this novelty. When I tell them that the chocolates also contain milk, they let me know that this will be their next product after the yoghurt business has boomed. Besides the cans and fridge, another topic on the agenda is how to improve the wooden shed they use as office and milk collection centre. The group is planning to build a veranda and cement the floor so that they can give a good welcome the important guests they like to invite.

Before closing the meeting, extensive words of thanks are being directed to me. ‘I have witnessed an respectable old man in our midst who in all his life had never tasted yoghurt. Now this product is available in our own village. Not only for our enjoyment, but also to improve our wealth and health. You have given us tools to bring our lives at higher standard.’ I in turn reply that it is a pleasure to work with a group which is so proactive. This inspires the chairman to start to preach to his members: depending on others might helps you to progress fast and bear fruits. However, this is not long lasting. In order to grow really strong in a sustainable way, you should grow deep roots yourself. It might take a bit longer. But you will be able to extract the necessary nutrition yourself. Do not parasitize, we shall work for ourselves, my dear members!

Amen Chairman.

Nieke Westerik

Nieke Westerik


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