On March 29, 2010, we watched the birth of our first calf conceived using modern technology. As she entered the world, I was struck by how quickly she managed to stand on her feet. For such a delicate animal—when she lay in the grass her skinny legs looked like a pile of sticks—she was impressively strong.
Our new addition was a breath of fresh air, but more than that, she was the tangible result of the several years I’d spent conducting research on the internet and reading articles about animal husbandry— studies that no one in my family had thought to undertake before that. She represented a progression toward greater self-sufficiency and more dependable revenue for the farm, and thus toward greater stability for those of us who depend on the land.
A year earlier, we had lost my heifer to East Coast fever, a common disease affecting farm animals in my home region of Kayunga, Uganda. It’s hard for anyone who did not grow up on a small family farm to understand how much loss and devastation such a death causes in terms of potential income generated from the farm, and all the effort expended in taking care of the animals. Also, it greatly affects the family’s ability to pay school fees, which come through the sale of farm animals. We agonized over the details. Which warning signs did we miss? Could we have intervened if we had recognized them?
No doubt this sort of unpredictable stress, a hallmark of farming life, is the reason many of my peers sought paths to more “professional” careers in sectors like technology, government, banking, and business. At 25, I am one of the very few in my age group who want to stay on the farm.
Though my family has managed the farm—troubleshooting and performing daily crisis interventions—for three generations, my grandfather and father still lacked the expertise to respond to East Coast fever. They fit into a wider culture of [End Page 5] local farmers who fail to see the opportunities offered by agribusiness practices. I don’t blame them for this shortsightedness; if I’ve learned anything about entrepreneurship, it’s that not all entrepreneurs are “born entrepreneurs.” Entrepreneurial farm owners like myself are a product of the right environment: one that inspires, and that nurtures imaginative interpretations of “what could be.” And, in most cases, this current of innovative ideas must be injected into a community.
My father and I beamed over our newborn calf, relieved that our first experiment had succeeded. The farm’s newfound vitality wobbled tenuously, as if balanced upon scrawny legs itself, but this first step proved our resilience. And it was an argument, however small, that perhaps I was onto something in believing that my generation could and should pursue innovative, business-savvy farming as a stable livelihood.
No Word In Luganda for Entrepreneur
It is difficult to translate the word “entrepreneur” into my native tongue, Luganda.
Most of my friends come from farming families, but few of them have any interest in managing their farms for a living. Agribusiness skills aren’t taught in local schools, though our population is overwhelmingly agrarian; instead, most young people aspire to an education that will lead to respected professional jobs. This avenue is widely viewed as the best choice for a well-educated young man, as so few people are aware of the economic potential presented by the land.
I was privileged and grateful to be sent to a good local boarding school. This was possible because my dad had established himself in Kampala, the capital, where he could spend a few days each week repairing automobile electrical systems. That extra income meant he could afford to send my siblings and me to boarding school.
The annual cost for us to attend boarding school was 3,000,000 Uganda shillings or approximately $1,200 US. During vacations from school, I recall biking from my family’s home to the farm each morning to milk the cows; this always felt like dull maintenance work, as the indigenous cows we...