Building a Path from Extreme Poverty in Eastern Uganda: How I Moved from Starvation into a Changemaker

Building a Path from Extreme Poverty in Eastern Uganda: How I Moved from Starvation into a Changemaker

This blog is not a recommendation and is not about our recommended nonprofits, but it is about the kind of approach, values and spirit that they embody. The blog is by a remarkable young man in Uganda whose work we find inspiring and we think our readers will as well. Anthony's amazing story echoes the approach of many of our recommended nonprofits, like Village Enterprise and One Acre Fund, as well as the transformations they foster.


By Anthony Kalulu, Founder of the Uganda Community Farm (UCF)

I have been on earth for 35 years. Of that time, I have lived in chronic poverty for at least 33 years.

I was born to a violent, polygamous Dad who did not pay my tuition since childhood. My mum, who herself never went to school, resorted to distilling alcohol to pay my school fees. She supported me only up to secondary school in 1998. After that, she was not able to take me any further. I went to Uganda’s capital Kampala in 1999, and pursued several hard labor jobs as a street child for 2 years.

An Unpredictable Turn into Teaching.

In 2001, Uganda’s main opposition politician made an ambitious campaign promise: If he wins the presidential elections, all institutions of higher learning become tuition-free. Then, he lost the elections. Luckily, the incumbent who won that election agreed to fulfill a few of his opponent’s promises. All Teacher Training Colleges became free in 2001. At that time, I was a casual laborer in a motorcycle garage in Kampala, but I had performed well in secondary school before I dropped out in 1998.

I immediately enrolled in 2001, and qualified as a teacher in 2003. Unfortunately, with a government salary of UGX 11,3000 (or USD 30) that I earned as a teacher, I had nowhere escaped the $1/day income bracket. I quit teaching in 2011. My seven years as a teacher were the harshest in my life ever. I worried about food, rent, transport and utility bills each single day of those seven years. Some of the grown-up students that I taught in my class started calling me names, because of my worn-out shoes and clothing. I started fearing going to school, albeit being a teacher.

Becoming a Farmer—and in this, a Changemaker!

Between 2011-2014, I was practically starving in chronic hunger in a small rented room here in Kamuli, Eastern Uganda. I had no food. No job. No land. Then in 2014, I set up an agriculture social enterprise (named the UCF), and secured 10 acres of land for this project in 2015—after running a series of online crowdfunding campaigns.

On this land, we have now set up a number of income-generating activities aimed at ultimately making the UCF's work with rural poor farmers 100% financially self sustaining. We have also constructed on this land a LARGE warehouse to pool together the local farmers' produce and market it under a single umbrella. On this land, we have also set up a training & demo center to help local farmers transfer technical knowledge and skills on specific crop systems that have high income-generating potential.

Right now, the UCF is helping hundreds of rural poor households escape extreme poverty in eastern Uganda through income generation from fresh organic ginger. Our approach is to provide poor small farmers with initial ginger rhizomes, along with sufficient organic fertilizers and technical training on ginger growing, then pool together these farmers’ produce and market it under a single umbrella.

We now have about 300 farmers that are currently growing ginger. All of these farmers had never grown ginger before, and all of them got started with free ginger rhizomes, organic fertilizers and technical training that they have received from the UCF.

Marketing of our farmers' produce is the responsibility of the UCF. And therefore, to counter the volatility of prices for fresh produce; reach market scale and help our farmers get higher prices for their produce, the UCF now wants to start producing value-added food products, such as Ginger Ale. Our next challenge therefore is to set up a Food & Beverage offshoot to handle the part of value-addition.

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The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.