The modernization of agriculture is one of the main pillars of the Poverty Eradication Action Plan, the key development policy framework for Uganda. The Mbarara district of Uganda has fertile soil, a good climate and adequate rainfall. The population is composed mainly of peasant farmers who grow bananas and keep livestock. In 1978, Mr. Edward Kamanyiro started growing grapes and producing wine on an experimental scale. It was after ascertaining the profitability of grape growing that he formed the Mbarara Grape Farmers Association in 2000. The association provides technical support on grape growing to other districts in Uganda. The association develops grape planting material and provides information to farmers all over the country. Despite the lack of a tradition of grape growing in Uganda, the association's vision is to develop a grape wine industry in the country. This vision is supported by the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, who provided a scholarship to a member of the association to study grape growing and wine production in Germany. The President has continued to follow-up on the progress of the association. German winemakers and the Kenya Wine Agency Limited (KWAL) have also supported the association's activities.
The association's innovation is found in the rationale for adopting grape growing as a practical way to alleviate poverty in the rural areas of Uganda. The project uses indigenous knowledge and local materials for planting and processing grapes into wine. Farmers develop compost from their livestock and use it for grape manure. Local rain harvesting technologies have been designed to harvest water for the grape nursery beds and irrigation of vines during the dry season. The association processes and produces wine locally without the use of any imported materials. A wine presser, casks and a winery have been locally designed and constructed for wine production. Most of the inputs used in grape growing and wine production are from local materials. The farmers provide the land, labor and capital. The planting materials are sourced locally, and the poles, wires and nails used for fixing the grape plants are locally procured. The winery uses local materials for processing the grape fruits into wine. The wine press is locally constructed, the bottles used to ferment the wine are recycled, the barrel used to mature the wine is constructed from local timber, and the bottles used to bottle the wine are purchased locally. The use of local materials, the farmers' own land and labor ensures sustainability of the project. In addition most of the materials used are environmentally friendly.
The farmers are empowered by giving them the knowledge and skills to grow grapes. By increasing their incomes they are able to improve the quality of their lives in terms of better nutrition, housing, health care and education for their families. The women and youth, who are traditionally marginalized groups, are empowered because they can use income generated from the project to improve the living conditions of their families. The organization of the farmers association facilitates the effective participation of its members based on division of labor. The farmers participate at different levels including decision making, grape production, and in the utilization of income at the household level. The farmers who are members of the association participate in decision-making, which is implemented by the management team. Individual farmers are required to participate fully in digging planting trenches, planting grape cuttings, fixing them on poles, applying organic manure, weeding, pruning, harvesting and selling of the grapes to the winery. The farmers including women and youth are also involved in making decisions on how the income is to be spent.
The association has signed agreements with local government agencies and women's groups countrywide to provide vines, offer technical guidance, act as marketing partners, and assist local farmers set up infrastructure for wine production. As a result grape growing is spreading rapidly from Mbarara to other districts in Uganda. With more capacity built in the association through trained extension services, and publicity through development agencies and the media, the innovation will be replicated even faster. The grape plant is easy to reproduce as farmers can obtain fresh stem cuttings from the mother nursery, which establishes easily in all cultivatable soils. Farmers can then get stem cuttings from their own grown plants within one year of growth and propagation. Because the market for wine and grape fruit is vast, ranging from the local, national and international level, the zeal to produce grapes is enormous. The project can easily be replicated so long as farmers are trained in grape propagation and quality control techniques. This requires commitment, interest, hard work, and sacrifice of time, labor and land.
The project is in its 4th year and the most active grape farmers are beginning to reap good income from their sweat and the potential to earn from the sales of their grape fruit to the winery is no longer questionable. 3,000 farmers have to date adopted grape farming and the vineyards of 200 farmers have matured. A temporary winery at Katojo village in Mbarara District receives grape fruits from farmers and processes them into wine and with the maturity of new vineyards; the volume of wine is steadily increasing. The winery currently produces 400 liters of wine in a season. The farmers are paid $ 60 cents for a kilo of grape fruit. The association sells wine at $ 4.70 per bottle of 750 millimeters. The increase in the number of grape farmers countrywide has overstretched the association's capacity to process the fruits. The association is therefore considering enabling the building of other wineries. Smaller bottles will soon be used to bottle the wine and offer alternatives to persons who can afford wines in smaller bottles.