On The Ground

GADC_photoessay 11

A White Christmas in Northern Uganda

I recently spent a week in Northern Uganda visiting Acumen Fund’s first investment in a Ugandan business – Gulu Agricultural Development Company (GADC).

For those of you who have not read the press release or Fast Company article, Acumen Fund recently announced its investment in GADC, a cotton ginnery located in Gulu District in Northern Uganda. GADC buys cotton – much of it high-quality, organic cotton – from over thirty thousand smallholder farmers in the North of the country. Because of the devastation brought by the Lord’s Resistance Army, an infamously violent religious and political group, many of the cotton farmers were forced by the government into Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps for many years. Selling cotton to GADC is among the first sources of income with dignity that some farmers in the region have received for many years. In addition to providing them with access to markets, GADC offers farmers a wide range of extension services supported financially by Danida, the Danish development agency.

Beyond the social impact, I was excited to work on the GADC investment for several reasons. I enjoyed working alongside Amon Anderson, who heads Acumen Fund’s agricultural investments for East Africa and knows a tremendous amount about the sector. The investment is Acumen’s first in Uganda – an exciting foray into a country with strong growth prospects, capable entrepreneurs, and challenging poverty problems to tackle. It is also the first time that Acumen Fund has invested in an agricultural processing business. Agri-processing is a business model that offers tremendous opportunities to alleviate rural poverty, through businesses which provide support and market access to smallholder farmers. Agri-processors can add significant value to basic agricultural products through simple operations – such as drying fruit, pressing oilseeds or ginning cotton – and thus they receive higher prices that they can pass on to farmers. I don’t think this will be the last time we invest in this space

When I traveled to Uganda, I had just spent the past four weeks working on wrapping up the deal with GADC and with Root Capital, our partner and co-investor on this project. In early November, I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts discussing the terms of the deal with Root; before too long, I found myself in Gulu itself. All the discussion I had seen on paper suddenly became real when I set foot on the grounds of the ginnery.

It was rewarding to see Acumen’s capital at work, and to see the impact that GADC is creating for the local farmers. Centurio, a GADC field officer who supports the farmers, took me “deep into the villages,” where the pace of cotton-selling is frenetic. I stopped by the cotton stores of Robert Okidi, an GADC-authorized cotton buyer. Robert buys and stores raw seed cotton before sending to the ginnery.

When I visited Robert, he was proud to show me his store, which had over three metric tons of cotton inside – a good start for late November. As I spoke with him, a short queue formed behind us with farmers politely waiting to sell their cotton to Robert. Many were carrying over 200 lbs. of cotton on the backs of bicycles, carted in from the fields nearby. For reasons unrelated to local production, cotton prices are at their highest point in human history; this means that farmers are enjoying record windfalls for their crop, even before taking into account any premiums for organic production.

Back at the GADC ginnery, the pace of work was hectic. Teams of workers collect the cotton, sort it into piles, gin it (“ginning” removes the cotton lint from the seeds), and pack it into bales for sale. GADC has already signed deals to sell hundreds of tons of cotton to international buyers. Because of its brisk sales, the company can’t afford to shut down the factory for too long; over a hundred local employees are needed to keep the operations running.

Although Acumen Fund’s model is one of patient capital, it is exciting to know that sometimes, our investments can have immediate impact if they support the right projects. Having seen firsthand the rapid impact that GADC has on the surrounding region, I’m confident that this is just such a project.

Read more on GADC in Acumen Fund’s press release, Fast Company article, and this blog post by Amon Anderson.

Alastair Green is a portfolio intern who works with Acumen Fund’s agricultural investments in East Africa. He is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is enrolled in his final year at Harvard Law School. He has been employed by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company and has worked on Africa- and agriculture-related projects with TechnoServe, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the International Finance Corporation, and the Harvard Law & International Development Society. His personal blog can be found at: http://tanzlines.blogspot.com.


Comments

Why India’s Economic Growth Depends on Vocational Training

India has an enormous population of young people – over half of the 1.2 billion people are younger than 25 years old. Yet, only 2% of its 500 million person workforce has any skills or training. The majority work in the informal sector (90%), where there are few opportunities for education other than what workers ‘pick up’ on the job. This reality limits overall productivity, as well as upward mobility. [Read More]

Letter from Jacqueline: My Week in Ghana

I am writing on a return flight from Ghana. The country has not seen a single case of Ebola, yet the impact of fear is profound. As travelers enter the country, attendants screen for high temperatures. Hand sanitizer dispensers are omnipresent. Hotels and conferences have seen massive cancellations. Everywhere are constant reminders of our fragility and the strength of our connectedness. [Read More]

Six online courses we’re taking this year

+Acumen’s free online courses are a great way to learn tools that will help you develop both professionally and personally. Whether you are a social entrepreneur who wants to market to your customers or a young professional that wants to strengthen your leadership skills, we are offering six courses this Fall that will help you develop the tools, knowledge, and networks to change the way the world tackles poverty. [Read More]

Four Emerging Leaders Building the Future of Pakistan

With 60% of Pakistan’s population living under less than a dollar a day, the external narrative of Pakistan is characterised by what the country lacks; a lack of security, a lack of women’s rights, a lack of access to education, and the list goes on. What this narrative ignores are the individuals who work tirelessly to plug those gaps. From human rights to education to food security, Acumen Pakistan Fellows are affecting change through organizations committed to tackling poverty. Their work is truly inspiring, promising a hopeful future for Pakistan. Here are four fellows that are building this future for Pakistan and come together periodically to share learning experiences and grow as leaders. Through five seminars, the fellows have strengthened skills of adaptability, communication, empathy and problem solving through listening. If you are committed to creating change in your community, apply now to be an Acumen Pakistan Fellow. The deadline is 29 September. [Read More]

Acumen Partners with AlphaSights to Better Access Global Expertise

In our work investing in social enterprises that deliver critical goods to the poor, there is a substantial amount of work to evaluate each investment opportunity. A critical part of the diligence process, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, is speaking with industry experts who can provide reliable information about sector trends, market dynamics and public policy – all of which affect our evaluation of potential investment opportunities. [Read More]

DE-BUNKING THE BURDEN MYTH: IMPACT DATA GOES LEAN

Our manifesto begins, “it starts by standing with the poor.” Yet for good reasons, the sector has found it challenging to measure which customers are actually being served through social impact investments – getting accurate data on incomes is notoriously difficult and the logistical challenge and cost of conducting surveys in person prohibitive. [Read More]

Questions for Aspiring Leaders

Bavidra Mohan, Acumen’s India Fellows Manager, attended this years Aspen IDEAS festival as a Scholar. The Scholarship program was established to invite guests from around the world to bring a diverse set of experiences, voices and perspectives to the rich conversations that take place at the IDEAS festival each year. [Read More]