Andrew Rugasira:Rebuilding Uganda One Farmer At A Time

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Some 1,700 years ago, cattle herders and subsistence farmers exclusively occupied Africa’s pearl.

Yet today, with its substantial natural resources—fertile soil, regular rainfall, and mineral deposits—Uganda’s economic instability declares disillusionment of its government and current policies.

While other nations thrive off of its resources, villagers within are barely surviving on basic food “securities” distributed by outside importers.

How did Uganda lose its mastery in agriculture? Why are people in some parts of the country facing food shortages while living in such a fertile country?

No longer willing to leave these questions unresolved, Andrew Rugasira took matters into in his own hands and established the Good African Coffee, Ltd, returning agricultural value back into the ownership of cultivators that produce the goods outsiders benefit from.

Now in its eighth year: Good African Coffee collaborates with more than 14,000 local Ugandan farmers; it has established 17 community banks, and; can be found in more than 700 supermarkets within the UK. The Black Star News recently interviewed Andrew Rugasira to find out more about his vision for the company and mission for Uganda as a whole.

To Rugasira entrepreneurship comes naturally. Prior to founding Good African Coffee, Rugasira was CEO of VR promotions—a company that not only provided extensive event support for the White House but also opened the first state-of-art studio in Uganda. “VR promotions actually laid a foundation and set the tone in the work I do today with Good African Coffee. It’s allowed me to promote the brand opportunity in a specific way,” said Rugasira.

After expanding VR Promotions to include advertising and communication support, Rugasira would later leave the company to fully focus on Good African Coffee. “I was frustrated with the notion that the solution for African problems always had to come from outside sources. Africa is always seen as a basket case,” explained Rugasira. “Using trade as apposed to aid was achievable and something we needed to do.”

Rugasira’s “Trade not aid” policy promotes self-efficiency while demoting the dependency on importation of goods and services. Today, you can find specific development projects taking place across western Uganda through the initiatives of Good African Coffee, Ltd. “We’ve developed a network of over 14,000 farmers and have trained them in growing and sustaining coffee. We’ve helped them in putting their savings together within 17 village banks, and given each other credit in a micro-financed way which has really made a tremendous difference in their lives,” he continued.

At the start of the company, Rugasira and his team faced three major challenges. The limited amount of agricultural capital stock distributed by Ugandan lawmakers wasn’t easily accessible. Secondly, the cost of reaching outside sectors skyrocketed. “It took us fourteen visitations to break into the UK market. There was a lot of promotional and marketing cost that went into that,” said Rugasira.

Rugasira was nominated for the 2007 World Economic Forum Award for his commitment to development in Uganda. “It was a real privilege, and one that I felt was an honor for everyone I’ve been working with throughout the year including the farmers and customers,” Rugasira said. “The recognition is part of all these different components that tell one story.”

As recognition continues to spread and funding is provided, Rugasira plans to introduce Good African Coffee products into leading supermarkets within the United States. For now, products can be purchased online.

It was also challenging to get villagers to participate in the initiative. “In the beginning, they were even cynical and skeptical about the message due to the exploitation that Africans have dealt with for decades,” explained Rugasira. “To convince them to be a part of the product took a lot of meetings, but ultimately their lives have been transformed,” he said.

“They now have better housing and are into bee- keeping. They have a savings and credit account. Their minds have been opened up and they have been emancipated not only farmers but as human beings," he added. Good African Coffee is dedicated to educating its network of farmers. Training farmers to work effectively and efficiently has helped eliminate previous insecurities and bring hope to their livelihoods.

Andrew Rugasira is currently working on extending the Good African Coffee brand to include a tea value chain beginning in southwest Uganda. “We’re looking to get into chocolate somewhere along the line,” he said.

He defines success as being committed to goals that don’t just benefit you as an individual, but the community at large while putting your best foot forward to reach those goals. “In five years I see myself as having been a part of a company that would have extended its African product footprint not only in Africa but in the West to a level where it is recognized for bringing about transformation to the community and its works,” he added.

Rugasira, who is also involved in a number of charities and church projects in Uganda, hopes that his work efforts inspire other entrepreneurs who are looking to get into the business sector and change the perception of Africa. “I think I’m keen to see greater commercial lengths between the African continent and the US, and in general, African businesses either through distribution or joint ventures of bringing quality products into Africa and to the global market,” Rugasira concluded.

His first book, which will be published by Random House, hits the shelves in 2012.

"Speaking Truth To Empower"

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