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The Magic Box in Uganda: Leveraging Integrated Value Chain Development to Lift Millions Out of Poverty

Imagine a Uganda where every family farmer has access to education, quality inputs, financial support, and dependable markets.

Photo of Richard Lackey
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

World Food Bank Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Govt of Uganda: Prime Minister, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Industry and Trade, aWhere, SeedCo, NARO, eProd, Mediae Company, VisionFund Intl, Musoni Microfinance, Colorado State University, Akon Legacy Ventures.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Littleton, Colorado

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The arable land of Uganda approximates 160,000 km^2. Our integrated approach to agriculture allows greater reach across the country.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Uganda is in a unique position in that it has two to three agricultural seasons per year and an abundance of water.  It has often been referenced as a country that is capable of feeding the entire population of Africa if its farmers are empowered with the education and tools to take advantage of its incredible potential.  We were brought to Uganda in 2014 by others who had made Uganda their mission field, and we quickly became fond of their enduring smiles and their quick adoption of the concept of farming for profit rather than just farming for food. 

WFB has established relationships with the Prime Minister and most ministry level leaders as well as seed hybridization and replication organizations, NGOs and micro-finance institutions.  WFB also has experience training farmers in Uganda on good agricultural practices, and we have secured quality inputs, financing for inputs and market access for many. 

Mediae has won numerous awards and is arguably the most cost effective platform for moving farmers from the edge of poverty to middle income through education.  We are anxious to get the programming in Uganda.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The recent history of Uganda is really defined by the has included dictators like Idi Amin, Obote, and Okello who have killed hundreds of thousands to protect their positions, and even the crazy Joseph Kony who made global headlines for his penchant to abduct children for enrollment into his army or to serve as sex slaves. Yet today, after the people of Uganda are known for their constant smiles though they may belie a naturalized distrust of others.  

Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda has a disparate rural population that has many young people leaving farms and coming into the cities for jobs, leaving a shrinking and elderly population to feed the growing demand for food.  Though things generally grow quite well in Uganda, small farmers have to manage to survive on the 60% of what is left of their crops after pests and mold and other challenges, and their production volumes fall in the bottom 1/8th of global averages due to poor seed quality, deteriorating soils, minimal fertilizer or soil improvements, and poor planting, harvesting and storing tactics.  

Meals almost always include cooked green bananas called 'matoke' and protein consumption is rising rapidly, but is still extremely low with each person eating an average of one chicken per year.  Fish is more prevalent, but not by much.  The greatest challenges in Uganda lie in agriculture which is also where the greatest opportunity exists.  The incidence of aflatoxin, a cancer causing poison, is found in dangerous levels in almost 80% of the population and the resultant increase (more than triple the rest of the world) in atypical pediatric cancers and liver cancers touches almost every family.  The fungus that produces this toxin is found in poor soils where good bacteria have been killed off, and grows uncontrolled because of poor quality seeds, and made worse when farmers leave harvest grains and pulses on the ground and store exposed in outdoor baskets.

Better practices have proven to increase production by threefold and to reduce the incidence of aflatoxin by up to 80%.  Uganda is poised to have 15% of its population move from poverty to middle income in less than 10 years.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

1.  Environment: Uganda has been blessed with more water than many countries in sub-Saharan Africa but still lacks proper systems for financing small scale irrigation schemes.  They also have two to three seasons per year which can catalyze income growth for farmers that adopt better practices far faster than other countries.

2.  Diets:  Lots of matoke and simple fruits and vegetables dominate diets and the lack of protein and the incidence of bacteria, fungus, and parasitic infections from contaminated food and dysfunctional water and waste management has dramatic impact on women and children especially.

3.  Economics: While real GDP is growing at more than 5% at present, much of that growth comes from mining and oil, when more than 73% of the population is tied to agriculture.  Many of the young farmers are moving from their rural homes into the city to become boda boda drivers, abandoning their farms in a time when the country is in need of more agricultural production.  In some rural areas illiteracy is between 30 and 40 percent.

4.  Culture: Uganda historically covered much of what is today DRC, South Sudan, Rwanda and Zambia with culture still being reflected in varied 'Nilotic' and Bantu dialects as well as Swahili, but English is the fastest growing language which is helping to open trade with the rest of the world.  

5. Technology:  Uganda has been slower to take on new technologies than countries like Kenya and Rwanda.  This is evidenced by the difficulty to get permits for imports and the ability to get business licenses and work permits for foreign business owner/developers.  This creates a challenge as well as an opportunity for growth.

6: Policy:  Uganda has not been as aggressive in price fixing for commodities or in changing import/export tariffs on the fly as seen in Zambia, Malawi, and other countries which does provide more stability for business planning.  The government does not have a clear plan or policies to support its plans for agricultural development, and those that have been put in place in the past have been weakened by corruption.  This is in part why our model has been designed the way it has.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

1.  Understanding 'Good Agricultural Practices'  (GAP) does not require a college level education and can even be taught through good visual and audio methods, but it needs to be made available regularly to the masses.  Media like the agriculturally based farm makeover shows of Shamba Shape Up and Don't Lose the Plot have given MILLIONS of small farmers the education they need to improve their farming of grains, pulses, fruits, nuts, roots, chickens, cows, pigs and fish.  This is made even better through our partnership with Colorado State University which is creating 12 online and 'live-assisted' short courses on soil management, seed replication, pest and disease management and more.

2.  When farmers have been shown the value of quality inputs through our TV and Radio programs, more than 37% have gone to purchase those exact products. We work through our WhatsApp groups to make sure that manufacturers get those products into trusted agro-dealers in rural areas and that the farmers know how to find those agro-dealers. 

3.  We have also partnered with micro-finance institutions to make sure that viewers of the show who have registered with us via text (now more than 300,000) can apply for up to 60% financing of those quality inputs.

4.  Lastly small farmers are in desperate need of a dependable market.  Those who watch the show and register by text have access to financing for quality inputs and are given direct messaging advising them on weather and specific practices for their crop specific to their geography.  World Food Bank leverages long-term storage technologies to guarantee those who register a guaranteed minimum market price to insure farmers some profit.  Conversely, World Food Bank also sells back into the region prior to the time and price at which processors, feed manufacturers and others often shut down due to the high cost of grains and other inputs.

Media is the secret to massive education, supported by online and live regional classes.  Partnering with local and regional producers of quality seed, soil biome building inputs, and improved pest and disease management is the key to increasing quality and quantity.  Micro-finance institutions see their risk greatly reduced by lending to farmers with better education and a guaranteed market, and the industrial revolution will occur when price volatility is brought into alignment with the rest of the world.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Based on the experience of more than 5.5 M viewers in Kenya and 3.5 M viewers in Tanzania, we expect to reach more than 3.5 M people on a regular basis with high value practical agricultural education via television and radio across Uganda within 3 years.  Our partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture  (MAAIF) will help lift the quality of education provided to and delivered by the extension agents of Uganda.  Partnerships with Musoni and BRAC will help us to expand financing to more than 1.5 M of this preferred group of farmers for primary grains, pulses, poultry, dairy, and fish over the first 5 years.  World Food Bank will provide food security and some price stability in Uganda, and will hopefully become a dependable source of high quality grains and pulses for local and regional markets as well as humanitarian relief efforts.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Good agricultural practices are the bedrock of this transformative economy.  When farmers rotate crops soils improve, and when they plant tighter together they conserve not only water but topsoil, and when they learn no-till farming the soil holds more water and the biome grows good bacteria that keeps down unwanted fungi and keeps away many opportunistic pests and diseases.  

Good agriculture pulls more carbon into the soil and keeps in minerals that make for healthy diets and tasty foods.  Stronger soils and improved seeds allow farmers to grow far more food which (with the help of the WFB) is proven to drive incomes, savings, and re-investment.  

Television and Radio programming can also help save the culture that is important and drive new impressions on fairness and justice.  In one program, Mediae depicted a senior male figure telling his sons to respect women and to treat them as a princess if they themselves were to be honorable among men.  Later he shared (in a culture where girls are not given property by their father or made a priority for education) that his daughter was so brilliant he was going to send her to school to study business, and have another son study agriculture, and another mechanics so that they could run the farm together as a business and as a family.  This had dramatic impact in local markets and has already begun to change the way women and girls are seen within the family structure.  Culture can be molded by television and radio.  

This platform of 'edutainment' agricultural television is also a tremendous resource for launching new technologies to the masses.  One company featured on the show selling fuel efficient cook stoves went from 1,800 unit sales in the prior year to 30,000 unit sales in the 3 months following the show.  

Finally, the ability to gather people together, whether it be on WhatsApp groups, or through SMS messaging services, the ability to gather and disseminate information will eventually be a powerful resource for converting disparate ideas on policy to more focused and informed voters effectuating policy.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Richard Lackey  Great to see you joining the Prize!

We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.

You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit.
Here is the link to the Prize Toolkit:

Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks.