Passion fruit is a big deal in Uganda. This can not be understated. When Ugandans talk about or ask for “meat” without specifying which kind, we usually mean beef; and when we talk about or ask for “juice” without specifying which kind, we usually mean passion fruit juice. In a bid to find out more about the past, present and future of our beloved butunda, we talked to Eric Kaduru, one of the founders of KADAfrica, a company growing, sourcing and selling passion fruit in Western Uganda.
The urban-rural migration of young people is becoming an increasingly common trend in Uganda and Eric Kaduru counts himself as one of its success stories. “I lived in South Africa for eight years, then moved to Kampala and from there to Fort Portal in the west of the country”. He tells us that this last move was inspired by an article he read about vanilla farmers in the area and that while he was still working in advertising in Kampala, he “did some research and decided to invest in a greenhouse to grow tomatoes”. Unfortunately though, Kaduru tells us that they initially faced significant challenges from what he refers to as the “Tomato Mafia”, a wholesale group of tomato buyers that colluded to take advantage of tomatoes’ short shelf life to exploit tomato farmers who have to sell their produce quickly and at unfavorable rates before it goes bad.
“Passion fruit has a long shelf-life,” Kaduru found out, after his initial hurdles with tomatoes, “Plus it’s a high value crop; everybody loves passion fruit, [so] it’s never cheaper than 2K [sic.] a kilo.” He also discovered that, due to higher altitudes, the vertically-growing passion vine grows very well in Western Uganda where it can be easily integrated into existing gardens. Kaduru spends his time telling farmers that: ‘You continue growing what you’ve been growing for subsistence… If you have your beans, next to some tubers, next to some passion fruit… [they can] help each other grow.”
The farmers he is referring to are subsistence farmers who are part of KADAfrica’s General Outgrowers Program, one of their community-centred initiatives. Subsistence farming is largely dominated by women in Western Uganda because the low incomes they yield, classify this as housework, not commerce, which is assumed to be a man’s domain. The company provides these small scale farmers with passion fruit seeds and training on best practices, thereafter buying their produce back from them.
A major thread in KADAfrica’s story is research, something Kaduru recognises not everybody in Uganda has access to. “We have that thing of keeping the secrets to ourselves but for me I don’t do that. As soon as I know something I want to share it.” He recognises a vacuum in reliable, widely-available agricultural research which, some argue, is a factor in Uganda’s agricultural sector failing to reach its potential. This approach is central to KADAfrica’s outgrowers’ programs.
Similar, but slightly more intensive than the General Outgrowers Program, is the Out Of School Girls Program that allocates female school dropouts land provided by churches in Kabarole, as well as seedlings, agro-input and classes in everything from agriculture, to accounts, to reproductive health education for 6 months. According to Kaduru, “Six months is how long it takes for passion fruit to be ready for harvest, so by the end of the program, we buy back their produce”. So far, 1700 girls have been through the program, and 600 of these are still actively farming passion fruit.
“One of our biggest problems is the over-saturation of the market,” Kaduru confides with us. There is too much passion fruit, albeit contributed to by the many farmers KADAfrica has brought into the fold. Their solution is to go a step further and diversify the output by processing the passion pulp into juice. He tells us that “Ninety percent of pulp used… [to make] processed juices [in Uganda] is coming in from Asia,”an opportunity ripe for someone with a reliable supply of passion fruit, as well as localised capacity to process it into pulp. KADAfrica is that someone: “Sourcing hardware has been the hardest part but human resources can be trained,” he says. Thanks to the large network of outgrowers, there is a readily available supply chain, as soon as the operation is online.
KADAfrica seeks to disrupt the cycle of Ugandan products exported, processed and sold back to us at higher prices. But as they diversify, they continue to grow more than just fruit; KADAfrica are growing livelihoods and strengthening communities by empowering women economically, with one of our country’s most reliable staples: butunda.