It’s taken me a while to write this post because, frankly, it’s taken me a while to figure out what exactly I will be working on this summer. It’s complicated. Maybe even complex…But I’m going to try to keep it simple, and email me if you want more details. (For a super quick summary, just scroll to the bottom) I’ve tried to limit my use of buzz-words, but it might help to take a look at my Intro to Agriculture Value Chains before reading this.
I’m working for an organization called Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB). I’m not in engineering, but I dig the organization because it’s full of super smart people with a lot of passion, doing their best to create sustainable change in both Canada and Africa. They’ve hired me to work as a Junior Fellow – sort of like an intern – for their Agriculture Value Chains (AVC) venture, which is currently operating in Uganda and Kenya.
Two other Junior Fellows and I have been assigned to work with USAID on their new “Feed the Future Agriculture Inputs Activity” project. The overall aim of the project is to increase the use of high quality agricultural inputs (ie. seeds, fertilizers, agro-chemicals, spraying services, etc) and support performance improvements in the agriculture industry. Considering that agriculture is one of Uganda’s primary industries, improving this system is pretty important for the long-term development of the country.
We (Hannah, Ellen, and I) are doing research to understand farmers, and how the existing Agriculture Inputs system affects them. So for the past two weeks I have been interviewing individual farmers, meeting with farmer groups, and hanging out at my host-parents’ farm supply store to eavesdrop on conversations. I’ve learned a lot about farmers’ perceptions of different products, how agricultural businesses operate, and how farmer networks/relationships influence purchasing decisions. However there’s also a lot more to find out, so I’ll be doing even more investigating in the next couple of weeks.
Once I’ve got a better understanding of Agriculture Inputs and farmers in the community, my work will change a bit. I will be working with one of USAID’s Business Growth Specialists, Lawrence, who is Ugandan and is much more qualified than I am. I will share what I’ve learned with him, and we will continue to do further research together. Hopefully we will identify areas where local Agriculture Inputs businesses could better serve their customers (farmers). Lawrence will then be able to help these businesses improve their service, thus helping the farmers to be more successful and also helping the businesses to be more profitable. The end goal is that Lawrence and I can come up with effective market research methods together, so that his work for the next 5 years will be more effective in serving farmers and agriculture-based businesses.
Super Summary: Julia’s work involves interviewing farmers and store owners; it’s a bit like market research. She will share her knowledge with other people here. These other people will stay in Uganda and use some of Julia’s knowledge (and a lot more of their own knowledge) to do awesome market facilitation work. This work will strengthen Ag-Inputs businesses, and eventually improve the agriculture system as a whole. Farmers will be happier. Agricultural businesses will be happier. People at the markets will be happier (ideally). Julia won’t really have done much, but she will have been a part of the process, and this will make her happy too.