Eric Kaduru and his wife, Rebecca, became passion fruit farmers through trial and error. They became social activists completely by accident. Yet now they are thriving at both, running one of the largest horticulture projects in Uganda and, through their expanding workforce, lifting hundreds of girls out of poverty. And that’s just the beginning.
Through a partnership with a local Catholic charity, the Kudarus teach agribusiness foundations to girls and young women between the ages of 14 and 20, then give them their own small plots to farm, in effect turning them into independent farmers. Their plan is to extend the program to at least 1,500 Ugandan girls over the next two years, all while expanding what is already Uganda’s largest passion fruit operation. “The best part is knowing you can make a difference and make money,” Eric says.
The Kadurus met in Uganda, where Kenya-born Eric was working in advertising and Rebecca, who was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, was working for a nonprofit. In 2011, they moved to a 25-acre farm in Fort Portal, Uganda, that Eric had inherited from his father, and began experimenting with crops of onions, eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers.
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As is typical of Ugandan farmers, they struggled to make a living. Transportation costs and legions of middlemen leave most of them receiving only around 40 percent of the wholesale price of their crops. And that’s just for what they can get to market; given the lack of infrastructure and knowledge about modern farming techniques in Uganda, yields are generally low.
Even with their professional backgrounds, the Kadurus found themselves at the edge of bankruptcy. They began researching the market and decided to experiment with passion fruit. Through their research, they had discovered that, though the fruit is in high demand in Uganda, 70 percent of it was imported. Furthermore, the six-week shelf life meant it would be much easier to get to market. And with modern farming techniques, they figured they’d be able to grow year round and harvest about every three months.
With a business loan and financing from the Mango Fund impact investment fund, they founded their commercial farm, KadAfrica, in 2011. Their faith in passion fruit proved to be well founded. Within months they were forging relationships with commercial buyers and partnering with out-growers—small farmers in the area who have started growing passion fruit and selling it through KadAfrica. By 2012, their operation was the largest passion fruit producer in Uganda.
Their success caught the attention of Uganda’s Catholic Relief Services, who approached the Kadurus and offered access to 85 acres of land—more than a tripling the size of their operation—if they could figure out a way to employ local women. Their solution was a joint partnership called Girls Agro Investment (GAIN).
In order to help girls in the GAIN program avoid the mistakes that nearly drove them out of farming, the Kadurus and their team of 13 employees and volunteers provide education in finance, modern farming methods, and common business practices. The girls then get a 240-square-meter plot (about one-twentieth of an acre) along with 45 seedlings to get them started. Once they begin harvesting, they become a part of KadAfrica’s out-grower network.
Since the program’s founding in 2013, the girls have averaged about 125 kilograms (275 lbs) of fruit per month, which translates to $45 of profit per girl per month—slightly above the national average income. Customers for the nine tons of fruit they and their 2,000 out-growers (up from just 250 two years ago) are now producing each month include Sheraton Hotels and various restaurants, supermarkets, and wholesalers in Uganda and abroad.
Within two years, the Kadurus’ goal is for the GAIN program to be self-sustaining (50 percent of its budget so far has come from donations) and to have given 1,500 girls the tools and knowledge they need for financial independence.