Until the age of approximately 18, I thought that pineapples grew on trees. To be honest, I never really gave them much thought beyond opening a tin of pineapple or eating it with cheese on sticks at a birthday party.
Luckily, Beckie reassures me that the pineapple tree misconception is quite common. Beckie works for the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), the organisation that my business counterpart Richard and I are working with for our Challenges Worldwide placement in Kampala, Uganda. I admitted this ignorance on my part while we were sat under a gazebo, folding hundreds of leaflets for the “Productivity and Growth in Organic Value Chains” conference. If there was one place to improve my knowledge of pineapple, then this was it.
However, over the two-day event, I soon learned that this was about so much more than a tropical fruit. This event was a real landmark for the organic sector in Uganda, a sector that many of Challenges Worldwide’s chosen SMEs are working in. For this conference was a dissemination of the very first research papers produced in Uganda that focused solely on organic agriculture, and all the key players in the movement were there.
Thursday saw us meet with a wide range of students and lecturers as we manned the NOGAMU stall at Makerere University (or the Cambridge of Uganda, as Richard told me!) We handled tricky questions about where our products came from, how we knew the farmers weren’t spraying pesticides and tried our very best to convince passers-by to part with their money for an organic coffee soap.
On Friday, we attended a workshop that covered a range of practical tips for organic farmers – pest control, producing silage for cattle – but there was also much discussion on the challenges facing the organic sector in Uganda, which has to date relied heavily on the private sector, with limited government support.
It was a privilege to attend an event with representatives from governments and universities both near and far – there was the Vice-Chancellor from a Nigerian university, a representative for the Danish Ambassador and a minister from the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.
Attending a Ugandan conference was an experience in itself – plenty of passionate disagreements, running three hours behind schedule and no soggy sandwiches for lunch – but overall one message came loud and clear. This group of people are passionate about their country, its produce and creating a strong agricultural economy through means that are sympathetic to the land and the people. There’s a momentum building and, if we can help assist a little on placement, I’m certainly pleased to be part of it.
When I get home and head to Sainsbury’s or Tesco to pick up food, I’ll see those organic pineapples and think of my friends back in Uganda and their vision for sustainable development. And I’ll know for sure that pineapples grow firmly in the ground (in rows of two, surrounded by banana trees for best results, if you’re interested)!
Written by Eleanor James