In the January 22, 2014 edition of New Vision, a Uganda daily newspaper, the Market Briefing section’s headline article proclaimed: “Uganda’s Onion Production Too Low.” The article urges Ugandan farmers to capitalize on the current demand for onions. “Onions are on demand because of the various advantages, but our production does not even reach half of what is required” Two kilometers off the main road between Mbale and the Sironko District headquarters in northeastern Uganda,surrounded by steep mountains covered in thick vegetation rising from the fertile soil, is Buteza village.
This is where you will find The Onion Queen of Buteza – a borrower in the WMI program. She plants and harvests thousands of these purple bulbs each year, selling them to neighbors, traders and townspeople. Uganda is blessed with two growing seasons, so she harvests twice a year, once in the winter and then again in the summer. After harvesting she stores her onions and waits until the perfect time to sell. Late in the growing season, when the current crop is not yet ready and the local supply of onions from the previous harvest has dwindled, she opens her stores and sells her onions at a higher price. The Onion Queen of Buteza did not have to read the New Vision article to know that onions are a sought after crop that stores well. As a savvy rural businesswoman armed with a WMI loan, she has developed a comprehensive understanding of the fluctuations of the local market, the needs of the local consumers, and advantages of her crop.
WMI is frequently asked why we do not train women in creating handy-crafts for export to the United States. Paper wallets, hand-woven African baskets, colorful-beaded jewelry and other handy-crafts are all staples of the non-profit-supported African export market. Non-profits identify products for participants to produce for export, provide loans and training to develop the business, and then create the export chain. Although this is a common model, WMI’s program encourages women to choose their businesses based on their skills, contacts, and the dynamics of the local economy.
The Onion Queen of Buteza knows that onions are a stable crop to invest in because not only are they hearty and can be stored for long periods of time, but also because they appeal to the local consumer and are affordable. There is an immediate customer base for onions; The Onion Queen does not have travel across the ocean to find a market for her goods. While there is a huge variety in the businesses that WMI borrowers own, they all have one thing in common: they are producing goods that cater to the everyday needs of East Africans.
The vast majority of handy-craft products made specifically for export are not items that African villagers are going to use. Their main market is the American consumer, not the East African consumer. Women who sell these products are limited in what they can do to expand their businesses because they have little connection with their market. Unlike WMI borrowers, they cannot sell their goods to schools, or in town or even to neighboring countries. Cultivating local markets is an integral step in building strong economies in the developing world. The WMI loan program not only helps individual women raise the standard of living for themselves and their families, but the program also supports the rural economies that are the backbone of East Africa’s larger economy.
To find out how you can support WMI’s work with rural African women log on to: wmionline.org