Creating networks for agriculture businesses

Walter Rubangakene never thought he would run his own business. Now he’s a successful agricultural entrepreneur who mentors others in launching their businesses.

Growing up in Gulu in northern Uganda, life was uncertain. A long war had taken a heavy toll on the region, and many northern Ugandans lived in displacement camps, where opportunities were limited. After the war ended in 2007, people in the region became subsistence farmers, making just enough to provide for themselves and their families, but not enough to establish commercial agriculture businesses.

In this environment, Walter had not considered entrepreneurship. As a child, he dreamed of becoming an engineer. But after his parents died and he graduated from high school, he realized being an engineer wouldn’t be possible for him. He needed another plan.

That was when he heard of Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT). A DOT youth leader came to his community to encourage young people to participate in a DOT programme which would support them to create opportunities for themselves and their communities.

In a 10-month period, more than 1,600 farmers from nearly 300 households participated in this pilot programme. Walter was one of them. His eyes were opened to how entrepreneurship could drive positive change.

One of Walter’s peer mentors, Jackline Alwedo from DOT Uganda, shares how DOT youth leaders supported Walter in a way that complemented the agriculture expertise in his community.

“We approached it from the perspective of, ‘you know the agricultural part, but how do we help you reach markets?’ That is an important part of how DOT offers support. As a peer mentor, myself and other DOT youth bring our complementary skills—like marketing, and more—to help young people like Walter do what they’re passionate about and achieve impact.”

A partnership with the Rangoonwala Foundation supported DOT’s youth leaders and peer mentors in Gulu for six months. Walter seized the opportunity to become a DOT youth leader himself, and connect people to the digital, entrepreneurial and communication skills they needed to build sustainable livelihoods and businesses.

Over the course of six months, Walter and the other youth leaders supported more than 600 people to develop entrepreneurial mindsets and improve their communication, decision-making, and digital skills. They helped participants launch beekeeping ventures, pottery businesses, pig farms, and more, connecting with local entrepreneurs in local languages, and from the perspective of peers who have deep understanding of local challenges and needs.

Two years later, Walter is proud that the initiatives of many of the people he supported are still thriving. He is also proud of the success of his own business, which he launched during his time working with DOT Uganda in 2015 and 2016.

“Changing people without being changed would have been a disservice to myself,” he says.

Walter identified a market for pork and established a pig farm. He started out with two pigs in a makeshift pen, which has grown to a litter of six pigs and seven piglets in a barn. He also grows maize and soya beans, and has begun to raise chickens, too.

Part of the reason for Walter’s success are his networks, nurtured through DOT and his local community. Like many farmers in the region, Walter is a member of an organized farmer group, and served as its chair for three years. This group operates like a cooperative, pooling its livestock and produce to bring them to market, and encouraging savings among the group.

“We believe that when we are able to work together, we are able to do something better,” says Walter.

As his farm continues to expand, Walter hopes to hire young people and provide them with the opportunities he has had.

“I dream of employing more youth in my community because agriculture is a very wide subject and yet interesting,” he says. “The knowledge I acquired from DOT will make me a better employer in future.”

Walter continues to support young entrepreneurs to develop the tools, knowledge, and networks to build their skills and abilities in agriculture. He has provided five young people with the piglets and training they needed to establish pig farms and build sustainable livelihoods in agriculture. Every month, five or six young people visit his farm to learn from his experience, passion, and insight, rooted in the needs of his community. The impact of Walter’s mentorship can be seen throughout his district, as other young people are empowered to create opportunities and transform their communities.

Quick Facts:

Name:Walter Rubangakene
Social project: Entrepreneurship for Farmers
Location: Gulu, Uganda

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