Pictured above are Ugandan youths who understand the struggles of unemployment, underemployment, and a lack of access to higher education due to insufficient incomes. They come from a family of twelve children and live in rural Uganda, where smallholder farming is the primary source of income. In their late teens and early 20s, these youths recently finished high school and perform odd jobs to help support their parents and younger siblings. University is not an option--there just isn’t enough money for tuition. But it’s not just college that is out of reach; without stable incomes, neither of these young men are able to pay a dowry and still live at home. Worse, the family is unable to afford malaria nets and the siblings frequently suffer from this life-threatening disease. Without enough money for milk and eggs, the family’s diet relies on carbohydrates with little nutritional value. Currently, only half of the children are in school.
But these youths are now optimistic about the opportunity to tap into a lucrative value chain that links something they have in abundance with international demand. On their property, in addition to coffee and plantains, are 15 mature and healthy avocado trees. Through the beneficiary feedback phase and the IDEO challenge processes, WOVAKEDO was lucky enough to connect with this family and explain its mission to engage Ugandan youths as participants in the avocado value chain. We told them about the production facility that we are setting up as well as our plans to purchase from smallholder growers in the region. What we learned was that these youths were not just interested in supplying avocados from their property, but also becoming entrepreneurs in the avocado industry themselves. This was great to hear, as it confirmed our hypothesis that teams of youth planters, pruners, harvesters, and transporters would emerge to capitalize on value chain opportunities resulting from WOVAKEDO’s avocado oil production facility. They don’t just want to grow and sell their avocados, they wanted to care for their village’s avocado trees and harvest the fruits. In this way, we think we tens of thousands of jobs will be created if we can scale the avocado value chain.
With some simple back-of-the-envelope calculations, we also learned that just selling the avocados to WOVAKEDO will have an immediate positive impact on their family. Because WOVAKEDO links to foreign buyers with a higher willingness-to-pay, WOVAKEDO can pay a premium over current local market prices, which means that their younger siblings will be able to stay in school, get mosquito nets, and even have a new pair of shoes within one year. Further, they would have enough money to supplement the family’s diet with more nutritional foods and protein. These youths were also able to help WOVAKEDO communicate an important message to their fellow villagers: avocados can provide continuous incomes, so don’t cut down your trees--the wood is no longer more valuable than the fruit.
So what’s next? WOVAKEDO is trying to get its small production facility up and running so that we can deliver on our employment goals. Within 2 months, we hope to provide youths with the opportunity to supply avocados from their villages to our production facility. Within 6 months, we hope to help build a robust network of youth-dominated enterprises that support the avocado value chain. For example, we hope that the youths pictured here find themselves running their own teams of planters, harvesters, and pruners. Within 12 months, we hope to scale this model across the entire country of Uganda.
But successful implementation is not going to be easy. WOVAKEDO is struggling to find engineers and machinists to troubleshoot production issues because we lack the funds to pay their salaries. An issue with our machine could easily be fixed with the right funds and know-how. Further, we seek agriculture experts in Uganda who can help to develop and implement a plan to scale avocado production among smallholder farmers. More avocado trees and higher yields mean more value for everyone! We are agripreneurs with a social mission, but we don’t have all of the technical expertise. Finally, we would love to hear from communities across Uganda that want to supply avocados and reach the foreign markets that WOVAKEDO has access to. If we get the capital to move forward, we are going to be able to engage the entire nation and create youth-dominated enterprises.