On a typical weekday, Eric Kaduru would wake up before the first rays of daylight began to find their way through the blinds of the windows in his bedroom. Like many others in the corporate world, he had to do nine-to-fives every weekday, and on some weekends too.
Although the Ugandan had gotten used to the routine, his bones had grown weary from having to get out of bed every morning, rush through the motions of getting ready for work, and skipping breakfast most times in order to catch the earliest bus to his workplace in the heart of the capital city, Kampala, with its usual heavy morning traffic.
Eric worked in a corporate firm and to many, he was amongst the lucky ones who had somehow wriggled their way into Uganda’s saturated white-collar industry. But to him, he was anything but lucky.
There might have been a time when he didn’t want anything more than a position at the firm, but at that moment, he was basically counting down to the day he would leave the office and never return – the monotony of the work and the effort it demanded was beginning to take its toll on him.
More than anything, he needed a career switch, and it mattered little to him what anyone thought about leaving a job which many would grovel to have in Uganda.
Well, you know what they say; you’re more likely to find that which you are not on the lookout for. When Eric decided to quit his job at the advertising firm, he probably had faint ideas about what he was going to do next, but he wouldn’t have seen himself finding a new home in farmlands covered with passion fruit.
It was all happenstance – Eric had informed his wife of his intention to call time on his relatively short career in the corporate world in favour of something ‘less fussy.’ Although he wasn’t quite sure how his spouse would take the news, he was relieved to discover that she had been thinking along the same lines.
And so the search for a new venture began. Eric wasn’t sure what he wanted, but he was pretty sure he was done pulling those nine-to-fives and walking on eggshells around superiors. He wanted something of his own.
On a particular day, he stumbled upon an article in a magazine which featured an agricultural project, and he found it promising. He shared the same with his wife, and within a few days, the duo had completed research on commercial passion fruit farming.
Now armed with something of a lifeline, he strutted to work the following day and tendered his resignation. That was sometime in 2011, and the bold move signalled the launch of KadAfrica; a commercial passion fruit farm and outgrower network which connects farmers to buyers.
Eric started the passion fruit farm on a piece of land in Fort Portal; a small town in Uganda’s western region, after leaving behind the hustle and bustle of city life. He began by growing small quantities of export-grade passion fruit but as the years rolled by and the funds started to trickle in, things were stepped up, and commercial production kicked off in earnest.
Today, KadAfrica is known to sell its produce to juicers and pulp-makers throughout Uganda and beyond.
Global brands like Coca-Cola are believed to be amongst buyers of the company’s produce, while marketplaces in far-away London are also known to have KadAfrica’s produce in the stores.
Within the first few days of quitting his job and putting his back into the farming venture, Eric knew he couldn’t do it all – he needed to find people whose lives will be made a whole lot better by being part of something positive.
The Ugandan entrepreneur looked around him and discovered scores of young Ugandan females going through difficulties associated with forced early marriages, illiteracy, and poor quality of life in general. He decided to add value to the lives of those females and make them economic drivers in their respective communities by incorporating them into the KadAfrica vision.
In Uganda’s rural communities, women face considerable economic hardship, and a good number of young girls have become school dropouts due to lack of sponsorship from parents who are more willing to hand them out in early marriages than see them through school. It’s quite a worrying situation.
On a similar note, Eric revealed that at the beginning, most of his employees were women who needed money for food and their children’s needs – women who were not getting any form of assistance from their spouse – as well as young girls who had dropped out of school. To make them self-sufficient and give them a chance at a better life, he brought them into the KadAfrica fold.
Although farming is quite conventional in rural Uganda, most of it is done on a subsistence level as most households merely grow enough food barely for the immediate family. Because of this, the exercise is more or less considered a chore delegated to women and girls, and not a business that can yield significant income.
After overcoming the initial challenge posed by financing – one he leapt over by gathering all his savings and soliciting partners – it was still hard to convince the women and girls that farming could be a profitable venture. But as soon he got a few farmers on his side and showed them the valuable side of the venture, many more were asking to get in on the project.
Through KadAfrica, Eric provides training and passion fruit vines to women, as well as young girls who have dropped out of school, so that they can set up viable agricultural enterprises and earn income.
His establishment also helps them set up their cooperatives, while also imparting skills in basic business management and agriculture. The company then connects these individuals to domestic and international markets.
Since it began operations, KadAfrica claims to have engaged over 1,600 women and girls through its programmes.
Eric has since won numerous accolades for his endeavour, most notably the 2015 Africa Food Prize which saw him become the youngest laureate since the prize was conceived over a decade prior. He is also Africa’s youngest-ever winner of the Yara Prize for his transformative work towards a Green Revolution Africa, as well as a 2015 Acumen East Africa Fellow.
The social entrepreneur also claims to have successfully raised more than USD 750 K in grant and investment capital to expand KadAfrica’s impact to over 10,000 girls and their family members within the next few years.
Featured Image Courtesy: agra.org