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Getting stuck before moving with miraculous speed

Getting stuck before moving with miraculous speed

Two times per day a mini-bus is passing through the district in Eastern Uganda to carry passengers to their destination, bumping for 3 hours over dust roads, since the whole district does not have any tarmac (nor electricity). Not being aware of this and wanting to start the yoghurt training at midday, I found myself sitting for hours on the back of a motorbike (bodaboda), with a scarf over my head to protect my hear from the inevitable dust clouds. During those hours I only passed huts where people seem to live under the most basic circumstances. The main town of the district (towncouncil) I almost could have passed without even noticing: some few houses on the left, some on the right, that is it.

I did three trainings in this district. When I finished one of my trainings there and wanted to leave, we just saw that only minibus for that afternoon was taking off in the distance. So my journey started with jumping at the back of a motorcycle and chase the minibus. The bus hunt was successful , and I safely boarded it. We had been bumping on for a good hour over the dust roads when we found a truck loaded with sugarcane (a common phenomena in the area) blocking the road. It was a swampy area, and apparently the truck had been stuck for some time, because part of the sugarcane was already offloaded, and serious attempts had been done to dig the wheels out. Waiting for the truck to be freed would have been very time consuming, but still I was astonished to see the mini-bus deciding to bypass the truck. We were heading straight into the swamp. Wheels turning, mud slashing up, but the vehicle remained there, right besides the truck, in the swamp. So there is no choice then to leave the vehicle (getting wet feet) and wait and see what the coming hours are going to bring. Meanwhile young guys completely covered in mud kept on trying different strategies to free both vehicles, without success. A surprising number of people showed up in the middle of nowhere within an hour. Some new vehicles arrived and started lining up on both sides of the two stuck vehicles, and other people might have come from farms and huts around. People started feasting on the sugarcane (which can be chewed to release a sweet juice) and there was chatting and laughing all around. However, it was getting dark, and I had still a long way to go. One car that had come from the town that I was heading to decided to make a u-turn, and good enough I could get a ride with them. About 10km before reaching the town, the car got a puncture, and again I stood on the road. Since the town was relatively near now, I hopped on the back of a passing motorbike and finally reached town. From that town still it took me two hours and two different mini-buses to reach my final destination, but without further problems.
Groups that I had trained previously in the east now make about 20-50 liters per week per group. To be honest, my hopes were not very high when I first arrived in the district and assessed the (relatively underdeveloped) situation.

During the training, I already had to adjust this view a bit, when I saw the enthusiasm of the groups, and the readiness to buy packaging material immediately after the training.
But I was really flabbergasted to see their rapid development to medium-size businesses after they received the packaging material: within a month time, the three groups produce now 120 l, 100 l and 40 l per day respectively, which is beyond what any other group has achieved even within the year that I am working with them.
Possible explanations might be that this rural district apparently is part of the ‘cattle corridor’, and there is a significant amount of milk available, more then in other districts in the east (although still not as much as in the west). On top of that, large scale yoghurt producers do not supply this district, and also not many other food specialities are available, so when this novelty got introduced, apparently the costumers are lining up. A final explanation might be that the two most active cooperatives (the ones of 120 and 100 l) are not involved in collection and sales of fresh milk, so they concentrate on yoghurt are their main business and only source of income.

To remain motivated and stay on the right track I have to question myself from time to time whether my work really makes a difference. Those groups showed me it does.

Nieke Westerik

Nieke Westerik

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