SMART Program reflections: Mukumu Fresh Produce in Uganda

By: Katelyn Godoy
Photo of the SMART Uganda team with owners of Mukumu
The SMART Uganda team with Mary and Kirabo Lukwago from Mukumu Fresh Produce and Michael, their partner in expansion.

The Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Teams (SMART) Program is a unique service opportunity and part of the Emerging Markets Program at the Dyson School. SMART brings together teams of both graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and staff from across the university and pairs them with small companies, organizations, and community groups located in developing countries and emerging economies. SMART teams work to address a specific need identified by their international partner and students work on well-defined assignments—challenging them to apply classroom knowledge and skills in real-world international settings.

Mukumu Fresh Produce Limited, Uganda

Mukumu Fresh Produce Limited operates an agro-enterprise located in Mityana, 1.5 hours west of Kampala Uganda. This small, privately-owned, family business produces crops for local consumption and export, currently focusing on sweet peppers (capsicum) for the local market and chilies for export. At four years old, the farm employs 13 full-time personnel and uses both natural rain and drip irrigation. Led by Mary and Kirabo Lukwago, Mukumu’s goal is to build a viable commercial enterprise that also has an positive impact on the local community where it operates.

Photo of the group touring the property
Photo of the group having a discussion around a table
Photo of the group visiting a local market
Photo of pepper produced at Mukumu

Krystal Chindori-Chininga, CALS ’19

Major: International agriculture and rural development
Concentration: Economics and development sociology

“There is no limit to the range of ways that our SMART Uganda experience has impacted us. By the last night of the trip, there was a general sentiment of deep-seated appreciation for the opportunity to be exposed to the realities of agribusiness development in Uganda. Each team member revealed that along with the academic exercise of the program, we all came into the project with personal questions. Be it Shan’s wonderings of whether the private or public sector affected the most meaningful development in agriculture or Kalob’s uncertainty of whether small- or large-scale agriculture was able to make a real impact in agricultural development, or even my personal questions about how my studies in agriculture can be used practically and be of benefit to my home country, Zimbabwe, or Southern Africa at large.

During our final farewell dinner, set beside the beautiful and calming Lake Victoria, we all revealed that our personal uncertainties had been addressed—it had been made clear to us that there is incredible potential for household, community, and national-level economic growth in agricultural communities such as those in Uganda.

Listening to Mary and Kirabo’s story of transitioning from a two-acre farm to 10 acres and now 100 acres, employing more local labor, and cycling more income back into the country provided proof of the fact that real and consequential change can come of invested collaborative efforts in small-holder farming communities in emerging markets. ‘Collaborative’ is a key word here, as at the end of the day, it took each and every one of our efforts and specializations to manifest the business plan that we created for our hosts. But much more, it took each and every one of our personalities to facilitate the collaborative, creative, productive, and supportive environment that allowed us to not only work hard but also enjoy doing so.”

Kalob Williams, Dyson MS ’19

Concentration: International and development economics

“One of my main goals for this trip, aside from aiding Mukumu Fresh Produce in their expansion efforts, was to explore the efficacy and implications of agricultural development on the large scale as compared to the small scale. Coming from a production background, and having intentions to return to production after graduation, I hoped to better understand where and how to focus my career efforts for the greatest impact. The answer I discovered was, as it usually is, it depends… and, its complicated.

Each country and region is loaded with its own set of special circumstances and complicating factors so as to render any sweeping statement about the relative efficacy of large scale vs small scale agricultural development without a leg to stand on. I was, however, able to notice and confirm trends that I had seen elsewhere. More developed countries have a smaller percentage of their population employed in feeding their people. For example, about 80 percent of our host country’s (Uganda) labor force is employed in agriculture, whereas that figure is only 2 percent in the United States. Now, the implications of shifting labor from agriculture to the manufacturing and service sectors are various and complicated, but I look forward to exploring them more in depth throughout the rest of my studies at Cornell and feel that the SMART program was a great kick in the right direction.”

Photo of Uganda SMART team on the farm
Group photo with the owners
Photo of the final presentation
Photo of the final presentation


Carolina Chaves, MPA ’18 & CIPA Fellow

Concentration: Science, technology, and infrastructure policy

“The trip to Uganda and having the opportunity to share with Mary and Kirabo, who are farmers and the owners from Mukumu Fresh Produce, showed me that the enthusiasm and desire of excellent farmers can cause an impact on the community. The idea of these farmers was to not only deliver a product of quality, but also to cause an impact—it is very admirable. During the time in Uganda, we had the opportunity to visit other farmers and see the different conditions they experience, which allowed me to understand how conditions vary from farm to farm. Such variables included the crops or the channels they use to sell their produce.

Mary and Kirabo pointed out that it is essential to help farmers to improve their knowledge on how to farm and also how to administer. They showed that determination and vision are necessary in order for a local farmer to access markets, both local and international, and this is how they are trying to become exporters. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to this process, by helping them to create a business plan, a financial tool, and a timeline that will give them guidance.

One main takeaway I have from this experience is that I learned from two true entrepreneurs: how they face their challenges, how they are embracing the idea of becoming bigger while being conscious of their limitations, and how they approach risks. I also learned from their motivation to cause an impact where they see the business employing people and possibly one day providing scholarships to children or even building a school.”

Mohammad Zohair Javed, MPA ’18

“As one of our group members put it, Africa is not something that you explain, it’s something that you must experience. That is what instantly comes to mind when I’m asked about our experience in Uganda. From the national parks, to the small scale entrepreneurs, to a culture embedded in a rich history, Uganda was truly the Pearl of Africa, as Winston Churchill had put it. While Africa’s stories in mainstream media are often not too encouraging, the on-ground situation in Uganda was a story of promise and hope and of relentless entrepreneurial spirit of the Ugandan people.

One story that will stay with me is the power of small businesses and entrepreneurs who think big to re-shape industries. Our clients, a retired couple, started a small farm in their backyard, and have now landed a contract in the UK. Meeting different stakeholders in the agriculture sector was an opportunity for us not only to learn about the on-ground dynamics but to tell our client’s story to similar business owners. Hearing this story can enable other small businesses to start looking beyond Uganda to export markets, which can bring in foreign exchange, higher revenue, and prosperity to the region. While we had gone in as consultant, it is actually Mary and Kurabo (our clients) who have taught me so much about the power of business to alleviate poverty and bringing a meaningful change in people’s lives.”

Read more about the SMART Program service experience in Uganda here.