Is this capitalism?
We have been trying to raise support for our intended agro-processing plant since 2015, in vain. During that time, people have asked if our intended plant, or the UCF’s designation as a “social enterprise”, isn’t capitalism, and if not, what differentiates us?
We will separately look at 1) our pre-existing community work, and 2) the envisaged Business Model for our intended plant, and how each compares with capitalism:
Our preexisting community work vs. capitalism:
a). What we have already done thus far, and how:
Since the UCF was launched in 2014, we have implemented two major community projects: ginger in 2014 – 2017, and our current sorghum project, as you can see from photos on this website. In both projects, we have worked together with hundreds of rural poor smallholder farmers, and have provided these farmers with 4 tons and 1.2 tons of ginger rhizomes and sorghum seed respectively, all free, besides hiring a field team that works with these farmers from initial orientation, through to harvesting.
But, if you look at a Seed Delivery Note that each farmer signs when receiving seed from us, it says “…the UCF also commits to helping this farmer get a market for their produce at harvest. If the farmer isn’t comfortable with the price that the UCF has been able to find, and would like to sell their produce elsewhere, they are free to do so. In that case, the UCF owes nothing to the farmer and, in all cases, farmers also owe nothing to the UCF — whether or not their produce was sold through the UCF.
That’s, farmers are NOT supposed to repay the UCF for the seed or any other inputs like tarpaulins, technical training, or assistance in finding a market for their produce.
Similarly, if you read the envisaged Business Model for our intended agro-processing plant, which you can access by hovering over “Action Plan” on this website, part of the text in #8 (Gathering our farmers’ produce, and bringing it to the plant) says “farmers are free to sell their produce elsewhere” if they are not comfortable with the price that our plant will be paying for their produce, even though these farmers will have gotten all their initial inputs (planting materials, training etc.) from us — at no charge.
Our only goal is to give the extreme poor in our region a hand-up; develop business approaches that will enable them to become self-sufficient, while looking for ways of making our own work self-sustaining, but without profiting from the poor in any way.
b). If you visit our “About us” page on this website, part of the text there reads:
The UCF’s business model is that of a pure nonprofit, in that all the support that we provide to the farmers we work with (be it seed, tarpaulins, training etc.) is entirely free, but a nonprofit with a business approach to putting the poor on a self-sufficient path from extreme poverty, hence our designation as a “nonprofit social enterprise”.
And while it is generally assumed that most “social enterprises” operate by turning a profit from their constituents, the only social enterprise aspect in our work is that the UCF is constantly looking for ways to ultimately make our overall work self-sustaining, but without making our participating farmers pay for anything, or repay us in any way.
This is very crucial in an environment like ours, as people like us typically have no source of funding for our work. Remember, according to the UK-based civil society advocacy alliance “CIVICUS”, as highlighted here, “only 1% of all Official Development Assistance (funding from agencies like USAID, UKAID etc.), and an even smaller (i.e. less than 1%) portion of all humanitarian assistance (all charitable global antipoverty funding included), is what goes directly to the extreme poor in the global south.”
When you take all of this into account, and the fact that a) we are ourselves only emerging from the most inhumane forms of poverty imaginable, and b) the UCF is working together with many other rural poor smallholder farmers in the remotest areas where nothing else is happening to end poverty, seeking self-sustainability in our work isn’t really capitalism. It is just the only way we can end extreme poverty.
Our intended agro-processing plant vs. capitalism:
a). If you read the envisaged Business Model for our intended plant, which you can access by hovering over “Action Plan” on this website, part of the text there reads:
Once this plant is developed, all the support that the UCF will provide to all the participating farmers (like seed/saplings etc.) shall be provided at no charge. Why?
This is not simply because we aim to do good. But practically, the vast majority of farmers in our region are too impoverished, and have no means of getting started on their own. Many are chronically poor that even the idea of providing them with inputs (like seed etc.) in the form of a microloan where they have to repay at harvest, only impoverishes them even the more. We have seen this happening with a few global antipoverty charities operating in our region, which provide poor farmers with loaned inputs. Many farmers end up selling their livestock in order to repay the microloans.
For this reason, all the support that the UCF currently provides to all the rural poor farmers we work with (be it seed; tarpaulins, training), as well as all the support that we will provide to our target farmers once the intended plant is developed, is free.
In this, our most important goal (in particular once the intended plant is developed), is to put these farmers on a self-sufficient path from extreme poverty, not by giving them a handout, but a hand-up that simply takes 1 – 4 planting seasons to produce self-sufficiency, and this will depend on the type of crop each farmer chooses to grow.
That is, with a ready market now in place (once this plant is installed), the free inputs that each farmer will get from us will only last 1 – 4 planting seasons, after which they will then be able to attain a functional level of self-sustainability. All farmers who are growing fruits like mango; oranges, pineapples and passion fruits will only get free inputs for 1 – 2 planting seasons. Farmers growing cassava will only get free inputs for one season, and those growing sorghum/maize will get free inputs for 4 seasons.
This all really isn’t capitalism. All we are after is putting the extreme poor on a self-sufficient path from poverty, and having the means to do so in a self-sustaining way.
b). In our SDG campaign citizencall.org, under the section “Let’s Do Something”, there is a question that says “What makes our intended plant unique?” The text there reads:
This isn’t a traditional capitalist idea. Rather, it is the kind of work that SDG #8 and SDG #9 call for, not to mention it will be the very first such plant in our region, and is being fronted by people who have lived in ultra poverty for long. Our only goal is to catalyze self-sustainability, in a place where nothing else is happening to end poverty, and in an environment where people like us simply have no other support mechanism.
Unlike traditional capitalist ventures, our plant will create new market linkages for the most vulnerable, and will use its own resources to stem poverty in the remotest areas where nothing else is in place to end poverty. And it’s only natural that way. This will simply be a furtherance of the work we are already doing, on practically a $0 budget.
P.S. – for a few photos from our previous work with local farmers, please explore the UCF website, or take a look at a presentation that we made before the UNDP Uganda senior team back in 2017, in regard to the same plant that we are striving to develop.
If we are to bet on escaping extreme poverty by relying on current approaches to ending global poverty, people like us only have a < 1% chance of securing support from the global development community, as highlighted by CIVICUS in this article, not to mention that it is very hard to find any single antipoverty activity taking place in remote poor places like ours, as a result of some global antipoverty intervention.
As such, finding a way of putting the extreme poor in our region on a self-sufficient path from poverty, and a way of making our own work self-sustaining, isn’t really capitalism. Our only goal is a self-sustaining, grassroots action on extreme poverty.