Masagazi Cliff Richard is the managing director of Pearl seeds, a company that specializes in the process of producing seeds, an essential ingredient in crop agricultural production. Founded in 2009, the company has steadily grown to a fully-fledged producer of quality seeds, employing both permanent and causal laborers. Although the company in its infancy stage had only five permanent staff, in the last decade, the number of fulltime employees has quadrupled.
Likewise, the number of casual workers has also increased from forty to one hundred and between twenty to sixty or one hundred laborers during the peak season. The company, which does not directly participate in the growing of the seeds contracts a number of outgrowers whom they provide foundation seeds, which they use to produce certified seeds. The company then processes the crops into seeds, and later sells them to different farmers. Since the production of seeds differs from the ordinary farming procedure, the company also offers trainings to the outgrowers. The staff constantly monitor the farmers to make sure they meet the required standards.
The company has a pool of farmers whom they have trained over time in all the regions of the country totaling to about three thousand. Notably, these different regions produce different certified seeds, based on the geographical climatic factors of the region. However, crops like maize and beans are heavily produced throughout the country. Though the number of outgrowers might sound big, due to the various climatic patterns, the season’s production is not uniform, making the overall demand by ordinary farmers overwhelming. The company buys the seeds from the outgrowers on their farms, then transports it to Pearl Seeds factory in Gayaza where they are sorted and processed before packaging. The finished products are then transported to different urban centers across the country where farmers can easily access them at reduced prices.
It is a tedious process, which involves the use of deadly chemicals harmful to humans and other animals: these chemicals are meant to protect the seeds from pests and give them a long shelf life. The laborers are required to wear protective clothing and masks in order to shield them from any unexpected eventualities. Speaking about some of the hiccups the company is facing, Masagazi noted that the involvement of women in the business is still low as they account for only 30%.
Thus, in Uganda, the issue of land ownership, remains a big challenge, as women until recently, did not own land, therefore acquiring several acres to practice the trade is still a major hurdle. Likewise, the youth are yet to get fully involved, when the challenge of capital is sorted. Also, despite buying tones and tones of seeds countrywide, Cliff Richard says the amount does not meet the local demand, therefore, the company also imports seeds from different countries across the region to bridge the demand gap. Competition in the industry is also very stiff because there are many other companies both local and international who import already processed seeds from as far as overseas.
Likewise, the involvement of foreign companies in the seed business often tends to tilt the prices of the imported seeds in their favor, especially, the type of seeds that are not produced locally. However, since the government’s incentives to promote local agriculture has worked in favour of local producers, many seed growers are protected from unfavourable competition.
When asked about the introduction of genetically modified crops in farming, Cliff Richard was quick to respond that here in Uganda, we enjoy the advantage of organic farming and the threat of genetically modified crops is still very far from reality.
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