The powerful story of a businesswoman and tea farmer from Uganda
A project led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is currently showcasing different stories from inspiring women all around the world.
Last week, as part of the “HerStory” series, FAO invited Adrine Kobusingye, a businesswoman and tea farmer from Uganda to share her story. The conversation was led by Dr Musonda Mumba, incoming Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Adrine, who started from humble beginnings, revealed how she came to become a successful entrepreneur in Uganda.
Adrine, the oldest of twelve children, was introduced to the world of tea from a young age. Her father owned small tea plots. Upon finishing her studies, she was eager to put into practice everything she learned about business and tie her new knowledge to one of the constant elements she had in life: tea.
Adrine started her business, Kamage Enterprises Ltd, in 2009 by borrowing 200 USD. In 12 years, it has seen a turnover of 1.4M USD annually and continues to grow. Although Adrine's father didn't have an educational background, he always encouraged her ambition to become a businesswoman and leader, she said. “I wish all my siblings went to university” added Adrine.
Adrine is the Founder of the only tea farmers' Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO)' in Uganda called IGABU, which is highly dominated by women and reached 8 000 members in four years. She’s also a former Chairperson of the Board of a smallholder tea farmers' factory with over 10 000 smallholder farmers – IGARA Growers Tea Factory – and a leading tea producer in Uganda.
Yet, until 2014, the Chairperson and Board of the annual general meeting on tea policy, which gathered tea farmers from Uganda, was formed by men only.
“I couldn't stand that,” exclaimed Adrine.
"I decided to smash the status quo by campaigning for my election as part of the chairman board” she added.
Even after making it to the Board, she still suffered from prejudice. Many did not accept her new role as Chairperson. Dr Musonda acknowledged her tenacious spirit and highlighted the critical role of education, especially for women, stating, ''when you educate a woman, you also educate the village and the country."
Climate change is posing significant challenges to tea farmers face in Uganda, particularly prolonged drought:
"60 percent of production yields are lost during prolonged drought. In these cases, our factory operates twice a week. We have to restructure workers, send people home. We have farmers who depend 100 percent on tea.”
To increase the resilience of farmers to climate change, Adrine encouraged the tea farmers to diversify and produce other agricultural products. To further support this, Adrine had the Constitution of the COOP amended to include other agriproducts, while maintaining tea as the priority.
Despite challenges, Adrine is a positive influence in the drive to more environmental practices.
“We are encouraging afforestation, because tea production depends on wood fuel, and we have to think about sustainability. As a company, we are encouraging farmers to plant trees around their plantations, which provide crucial shade.”
Dr Musonda highlighted the decisive role of Adrine and her inspirational story, not only for Adrine's daughters but "for all of women across the world."
Adrine faced many roadblocks on her way to success. She came from a humble beginning, and later in life lost her husband to cancer, becoming a single parent. Despite this, she built a successful business and is seen as a leader.
“Women belong to all places where vital decisions are made. We can run a hotel, a company, or a farm. What men can do; women can do better. We should change our mindset and believe in ourselves,” stated Adrine.
“Adrine's journey demonstrates what in the United Nations we are talking about when referring to gender equality, and to see it manifesting really at this microcosm, at the community level for me is absolutely impressive," concluded Dr. Musonda.
The HerStory series is organized by the Flexible Multi-partner Mechanism (FMM) 149 project which promotes gender-responsive climate policies and actions in agriculture and supports gender balance and women’s leadership at national, regional, and global levels. The HerStory series showcases women's positive and significant impacts in various areas related to food and agriculture.