Eric Kaduru is the Founder of Kad Africa, a commercial passion fruit farm that produces export-quality passion fruit and empowers women to become the economic drivers of their communities. Kad Africa operates by providing up to 30 girls with land to form their own cooperative and then trains and supports them to sell to a ready market in Uganda and internationally. Eric is passionate about supporting women and girls to become thriving entrepreneurs within Uganda’s strengthening agribusiness industry. On this week’s feature of GroundBreakers’ Portraits of a GroundBreaker Series, our discussion with Eric ranged from how he is inspired by his mother to how climate change affects the farming of passion fruit.
Read on to learn more about this GroundBreaker’s amazing work and be sure to check out the Kad Africa!
What motivated you to start KadAfrica?
A major issue we have been motivated to solve is that the market was being controlled by traders which made it difficult for local farmers to get fair prices on their crops. I initially started by growing tomatoes and onions but switched to growing passionfruit as these were very perishable crops.
Another big motivator for us is that women make up the majority of the agricultural labor force, especially in rural areas. We found that a lot of workers on our farm were women who would try to barter their salaries in different ways. For example, they would ask us to pay them half of their salary upfront instead of the full amount so that they could use the other half to pay school fees directly as well as purchase groceries. By paying these costs up front, they sought to avoid bringing their paycheck home out of fear that their husbands would spend the money that they had worked hard all month for.
My biggest mentor has been my Mom as she is a champion for women’s rights…She always pushed the idea that if you build a woman in a community, you will build a community.
What advice would you give to young people who want to become social entrepreneurs?
I would first advise to do a lot of research around whatever issue you are venturing into. It is ideal to position yourself to be able to fail quickly, fail hard, and fail fast so that you can get up and do it properly the second time. The more research and knowledge you have, the more likely you are to succeed. Perseverance is very important here because deciding to become an entrepreneur is a very difficult thing. A lot of odds are stacked against you and you will get knocked down. You have to have tough skin and just keep at it.
What takeaways from your prior career in advertising do you apply to Kad Africa?
Brand management was a major takeaway from my career in advertising. Building a brand helps any enterprise or initiative get ahead and Kad Africa has been successful in building a brand on both the international and local levels. We’ve packaged our program so that the girls in Kad Africa have a lot of family and community interaction that helps in sharing our brand. We have them wear Kad Africa t-shirts and we give out tote bags and bandanas so that there’s a lot of identification around the Kad Africa brand and the girls associated with our work. We also teach them how to be outspoken and champion women’s rights and agricultural activity so that they go out and build the brand for us.
It is ideal to position yourself to be able to fail quickly, fail hard, and fail fast so that you can get up and do it properly the second time. The more research and knowledge you have, the more likely you are to succeed.
Who are some of the people who inspire you in your work? Some of your mentors?
My biggest mentor has been my Mom as she is a champion for women’s rights. She was also a single mother and this was very empowering to experience for me and my brothers growing up. After my Dad died, my Mom was educated enough to keep us going and in good schools. She always pushed the idea that if you build a woman in a community, you will build a community. That resonated with me and as soon as I started working in agriculture I could immediately see this at work. I could see that the women we worked with are motivated by educating their kids and providing for their families. I am most inspired by these women and my Mom.
What challenges did you face in starting KadAfrica?
A major challenge was cultural. I didn’t grow up in Uganda so I didn’t always understand how people work here. A lot of the people in Fort Portal where we’re based mainly had experience in tea farming. A big barrier was changing the mindset from only growing tea to getting people involved in passion fruit growing. Another challenge has been accessing capital because it has been very hard to be caught in the missing middle. Some people don’t want to give us funding because we’re too new and others do want to fund us but we can’t accept that money yet because we haven’t been in operation long enough.
Venturing into agriculture itself has also been a challenge as I had no experience in agriculture prior to starting Kad Africa. Of all the agricultural areas to venture into, agriculture is probably the hardest because it’s very tempermental. Changes in climate especially are hard to deal with and can be unpredictable.
What brought you to Uganda after being raised in Kenya?
My Dad is from Uganda and my mom is Kenyan. I was born and raised in Kenya and we used to spend a lot of holidays in Uganda when I was growing up. When I graduated college I worked for a while in South Africa and my mom suggested that I move to Uganda during this time because that’s where my family had settled. I then moved to Uganda and went upcountry one day to some land that my dad had left me and decided to give agriculture a chance.
How does climate change affect the work of KadAfrica?
We mainly work with smallholder farmers and a lot of that activity is based on the seasons. The climate used to be far more predictable than it is now. For example, we knew when the rainy season would start and when it would end and so people were planting and harvesting at different times of the year. Nowadays the seasons are more erratic. It is often dry during the rainy season and rainy during the dry season. This is costly because farmers will often plant at the wrong times when the rainy season hasn’t actually started. Farmers will harvest too late or the harvest will be affected by excessive rain.
How have you formed partnerships to increase female ownership of land?
We have built strategic partnerships with different churches and religious institutions. We started with the Catholic Church because they are the biggest landowner in the country and face challenges with people squatting and stealing land that has gone unused for a while. We offered them the opportunity to partner with us so that we could lease land from them. Our arrangement is an in kind lease where we set them up with a farm alongside the farms we’re setting up for our women in Kad Africa. We then go out into communities and recruit women so that they can use the land that we lease out for free.
What is the role of local government is supporting Kad Africa?
We’ve done a few different partnerships with the local governments, in particular with the very localized, rural governments in our area of Uganda. In this capacity we work mainly with local chairpersons. We don’t work with the national government as much but we are engaged in national talks to try to grow this program and replicate it on a national level.
The climate used to be far more predictable than it is now… Nowadays the seasons are more erratic. It is often dry during the rainy season and rainy during the dry season. This is costly because farmers will often plant at the wrong times when the rainy season hasn’t actually started.
How is this work adapted to different cultural contexts?
We currently only work in the Western region in the Kabarole district which is where Fort Portal is located. We work in over 40 different parishes in this region. The culture in this region is generally the same as the Kabarole district is characterized by one ethnic group. The cultures here don’t really shift as much as in other parts of the country. If we were to expand to the North of Uganda, for example, we would have to deal with very different households and attitudes towards women and girls.
What are the challenges around the passion fruit market in Uganda today?
The main challenge for export would be that quality control in Uganda is very limited. When European countries, for example, are importing passion fruit, they want the fruit to come in at a certain level of quality. It’s hard to attain these standards if passion fruit is not being grown on a well managed farm. On the local level, the demand is very high but growing passion fruit is difficult because it’s a crop that requires a lot of attention. Uganda is a country where everything just grows, for example bananas and avocado trees and mangos grow very easily so it is important to teach people to be very attentive to their farms when growing a harder crop like passion fruit.
What is your vision for KadAfrica?
We’re trying to build a national program in Uganda that is not only specific to Kad Africa and passion fruit growing. We want the country to head more in the direction of women’s empowerment, the buildup of agriculture, and cooperative farming. Uganda has been called the Pearl of Africa because crops grow very easily here. We want to ensure that agriculture is viewed as a business so that Uganda is viewed as an economic power in agriculture. As small as Uganda is, I believe that we could be the next Holland of Africa because there is so much potential in agriculture here.