This morning we left for Okidi at 8, with the promise that Richard had worked on the base frames well into the night. When we arrived at Okidi, the door to the MFP housing structure was locked and Richard was nowhere in sight. After waiting more than an hour, we were finally let inside the house to find that Richard only completed the base frame for the huller. The huller fit onto the base frame although the shaft of the huller did not align properly with the shaft connected to the motor. While this would only present a minor problem, this would most likely lead to future problems with the belt. However, our concerns with this misalignment were not considered. Instead, Richard decided to move one of the bearings further from the motor to minimize vibrations of the shaft and thus make the shaft sturdier. However, this change also would force the community members to remove the bearing each time they change the belts. Not only will this be an inconvenience, but it took a lot of time to make this change, and essentially undid much of yesterday’s work. Once the measurements were made to move the bearing, the pulleys on the shaft were aligned with the motor and the pulley of the huller respectively. After the measurements were made for this alignment, Richard went to manufacture two keys in the shaft where the pulleys will sit. He rode away on his boda boda promising he would return in half an hour. That was the last we saw of him. Three hours later, Pilgrim and EWB made the decision to leave the site as nothing could be done without the shaft and there was no word from Richard. Shalni and Gabriella wanted to split from the group and go to Sugur to install those base frames as Richard promised those were ready. However, we have yet to see them and Richard would not give us a straight answer when we proposed this idea to him. Also, we still have not seen the base frame for the oil press in Okidi even though Richard claims that he made it. Since we want nothing more than to see Okidi operating, we will be extending our time in Soroti. If Richard completes the site tonight as promised, then we will return to Okidi tomorrow morning for testing. If not, we will be leaving Soroti very disappointed and frustrated.
On a happier note, Pilgrim is taking us out to dinner tonight at the Akello Hotel. After, we will finish packing our bag and watch the Lion King to get us pumped to visit Murchison Falls National Park. We will definitely keep you all updated!
Gabriella, Shalni, & Eric
Today we made an early departure in the hopes that everything at Okidi could be assembled and tested. Upon arrival at site we found ourselves in a familiar situation, waiting on Richard the contractor, or as the locals call him “Rich Man.” He did show up soon enough, and he brought a large generator as promised so that his power tools could be used to make the necessary modifications to the frame.
Apparently the miller and the huller that we commissioned to be fabricated in Kampala had been snatched up another buyer who paid in cash – the fabricator believing they could bang out a few extra machines before Richard showed up to pick up the machines. Unfortunately Richard had measured the dimensions of the old machines and the new machines were a little different, thus the base frame having to be modified on-site. So the frame modification took a couple hours.
Once the miller was positioned there was belt-fitting. There was some initial confusion as the measurement Julius and Richard had taken was in centimeters but the belt was purchased with specified dimension of inches, thus the belt was way too large. Some community members went back to get different belts, which took about an hour.
After belts were fitted, the crank was turned but loud metal-on-metal clashing sounded from the inside of the miller, so we took it apart to find most of the milling hammers were too long. This resulted in more hours of grinding work.
As the gasoline generator chugged away, many locals confused the engine sound for the sound of the changfa engine, and about 20 or 30 women showed up with big bags of cassava and maize to be milled. Though we were not ready to process any of the crops, everybody was very eager to wait for the miller to be finished to participate in the inaugural milling. After a few hours of work (and a couple of card games between the team and some locals) it was late in the afternoon, and we were ready to test the miller with cassava. Aside from small leaks in the machine where flour was escaping, the milling was a success. At this point it was 6pm and everybody from EWB and pilgrim headed back to Soroti while the community continued milling, and Richard continued to work on base frames.
Eric, Gab, and Shal
On Saturday, we woke up early to be ready to leave for the site at 8:30. As time went by, we anxiously waited for Angella’s call. At around 10:30 we were told that Richard still was not at Pilgrim, but as soon as he arrived we would leave for Okidi. We continued to wait, losing more hope of finishing Okidi as each hour passed/ Finally at 1:30, Angella came by the Golden Arc to tell us we were not going to Okidi at all/ Richard had finally arrived at Pilgrim with many excuses as to why he was so late. Angella told him to go home and rest since he apparently hadn’t slept his three nights in Kampala as he was “hard at work making the base frames.” We also learned that the reason Richard had to make the trip to Kampala himself (after saying he had arranged someone to deliver the machines) is because another NGO, World Vision, took the MFP parts that were fabricated for us. We asked Angella if she thought we would be able to finish Okidi in our last two days. She assured us that we would finish Okidi in 30 minutes to an hour, although we knew that would be impossible. We proceeded to ask if Richard had all the pulleys, base frames, shafts, and belts for the huller and mill and she guaranteed that he did. While we already knew this was highly unlikely, we did not question Angella and instead decided to swim off our frustrations in Calvin’s pool. After, we went to dinner at Soroti Hotel. Shalni, Eric, and Brian watched the Star Trek which ended up sparking a huge debate regarding time travel. We all went to bed far beyond anxious to visit Okidi the next day.
Gab, Shal, and Eric
We were all up and ready by 9am to head back to completely finish off the installation at Okidi after another day of waiting on the contractor (Richard). However, we soon received a call from Pilgrim letting us know that Titus would come over around 10am for a Team Meeting. We all knew that was not a good sign…
Titus told us that, contrary to what we’d been told yesterday, Richard was gone to Kampala to pick up the remaining machines (huller and mill), and that there was nothing more we could do at the sites without them. Titus suggested that instead of banging our heads against the wall in frustration at Golden Ark, we should go hiking and for a bat ride to the islands in Lake Kyoga. We quickly changed and headed off to Bugondo.
When we got to the lake, the eccentric boatman was asking much too high a price, so we decided to forego the islands and instead hike the larger mountain on the mainland. Two ladies native to the village at which we parked guided us up the steep, rocky terrain to the top of the hill. It was a hot, sunny day so we had a nice clear view of the expansive Teso landscape. In the distance, we could even see the distinct silhouette of Soroti Rock, which looked so small from so far away.
After resting our muscles and enjoying the hilltop scenery, we headed back down the mountain, motivated by the thought of our water bottles waiting at the bottom. To the relief of some and the chagrin of others, it began to rain on our descent. It got progressively heavier, too, so by the time we were back at the car, we were thoroughly soaked and muddy.
A delicious meal prepared by Esther was waiting for us when we got back to Golden Ark. After overeating, showering, and wringing out our dripping clothes, we were hit hard by a food coma. Eric, Gabriella, and Shalni watched Blood Diamond and promptly went to sleep, hoping for a more productive day tomorrow.
Shalni, Eric, and Gabriella
Due to delays in fabricating the miller and the huller in Kampala, the contractor ended up traveling all the way to Kampala after getting some supplies in Mbale to get things back on the right track. Because of this, we had a day of rest. Brian went in to town to get a newspaper and a chai. Shalni and Gab did a little bit of shopping, and Eric read in the hotel before indulging in a “rolex” for lunch (fried eggs wrapped in chapati).
We soon got news that Titus had procured permits to climb Soroti Rock, the local geological attraction (a big granite rock). Not only did we get a permit for the municipal council, but we also had to get permission from the local police.
Finally David drove Titus and the four of us to the Rock, and we proceeded up the steep rock stairway. The going was steep, but Soroti Rock is only about 100 or 150 meters tall so it was not a long hike. Everybody was surprised to find a plethora of goats bleating and eating weeds at the top — perhaps they have found temporary refuge from ending up on a dinner plate.
The view was quite impressive from the top of the Rock. It was very apparent how flat the surrounding landscape is. Soroti stretches away in mostly every direction, and we could see to Lake Kyoga to the West, and to other points of interest such as swamps and small hills. It was particularly interesting how all the sounds from Soroti could be heard: people smashing big rocks into gravel, music from the bars, the hustle and bustle of town, cars and motorcycles speeding along – it was almost like the vantage point you would get from playing Sim City.
We took lots of photos, climbed a ladder to the top of a rock (Brian too, though reluctantly due to his fear of ladders), and Titus even convinced the army guy at top to let us go all the way to the highest point, which is an army outpost.
We were fortunate to have fair weather – though not sunny, not rainy either – the breeze was even quite refreshing. While we were at the top of the Rock we even spied half a dozen or more monkeys. How exciting!
After about an hour or so at the top, we all climbed down and David and Titus dropped us off in town. We discovered the food market, Eric bought a pair of shoes for $5, and then we settled down at Landmark for an early dinner. After dinner everybody was quite tired and went to sleep rather early.
The Soroti Rock-stars
After a busy weekend pouring concrete and exploring Sipi falls, we had a much needed day off on Monday as the top coat of concrete at Okidi and Sugur set.
On Tuesday, we attempted to get back to work and install the base frame at Okidi. We were on the road by 10am, but en route we stopped at Richard’s workshop to pick up the base frame, only to find that the power was out in Serere so Richard could not finish the welding. Since we had no idea when the power would return, Richard, Silas, Shalni, and some others headed back to the Soroti district to finish off the frame. A couple hours of cutting, welding, and re-measuring later, the generator at the workshop stopped working and we had to get more engine oil. Once it was back up and running, the welding and filling continued as the elevated base for the engine was made. While waiting around at the workshop, Shalni was given a hearty meal of traditional posho and beef stew prepared by the wives of the workers. They were delighted to hear Shalni praise them in their native tongue: “ipoiti noi!” (the Ateso version of compliments to the chef). With the frame complete and stomachs nourished, Shalni, Silas, and Richard headed back to Okidi again.
While Gabriella, Brian, Eric, and David waited for the gang to return with the base frame, they talked to David and Julius about the recent history of Uganda. David and Julius both shared their experiences of living through, and fighting in, the insurgency ten years ago. Julius went on to explain some of the issues still plaguing Uganda today. With this newfound insight into the struggles of the citizens of Uganda, Brian, Eric, and Gabriella were even more excited to continue working- which made waiting for the base frame all the more frustrating.
After five hours of waiting in Okidi, the frustration only grew when the others returned with the framework. Upon setting the frame onto the concrete base, we discovered that the screws did not align with the holes in the bars. The team was quite agitated despite having seen this coming; we had pointed out that the screws were misaligned when they were placed in the wet concrete, though we were waved off and told that it didn’t really matter since the bars were going to be simple I-beams anyway. While cutting the frame to adjust the fit, the generator that Richard had brought failed, and we were unable to drill the holes. There was talk of borrowing a generator from a neighbouring community, but the chairman and other Okidi members were opposed to this idea (because of apparent politics between the communities).
We got the engine oiled and fuelled, and were happy to see that it started perfectly! However, when we went to mount it on the base frame, we noticed that the engine stand was, in fact, made of plastic that had been painted to look like metal. According to Julius, that stand wouldn’t last three days under the engine. Richard said that he would make a new stand of iron back at his workshop, so we left Okidi around 6:30pm feeling discouraged and frustrated that the whole day was spent running against a brick wall.
On Wednesday, we were all very eager to start working after a full day of waiting for the completion of the base frame. After breakfast, we were picked up by David and brought to the Pilgrim office where we were able to access some much needed internet. After half an hour of checking e-mails and downloading more e-books to read, we headed off the Okidi to mount the base frame and install the available parts- the engine, the rice polisher, and the oil press. However, we learned that Richard did not yet have shafts and was on his way to Mbale to purchase them. While we waited for Richard to return with the shafts, we mounted the base frame on the concrete foundation and used washers to rectify the misalignments of the base frame. Richard had already made the new iron stand for the engine so we were able to proceed with the installation of the engine. We mounted the engine and its new stand to the base frame and got it started. While it ran well, Brian noticed that the water indicator was low and that there was steam coming out of the engine. We urged Julius and the community members to turn off the engine to prevent overheating and damage to the new machine. While we waited for a community member to bring water, we installed the rice polisher to the base frame and attached the belts between the engine and the rice polisher. We saw that the pulleys of the rice polisher and engine were not aligned and the belts had a lot of slack. Julius assured us that the rice polisher would be realigned after testing, so when a child arrived with the water we started the engine again to test the rice polisher. IT WORKED! WONDERFULLY! We were happy to see that, unlike the big ol’ Listers, the vibration was not a problem with the Chang-fa engine. The rice polisher, however, vibrated significantly, so we definitely will need to install a layer of rubber or softwood between the concrete and the frame to dampen the vibrations. Fortunately, we were able to test the polisher with unhulled rice, and the product came out beautifully. When the other components are installed and the rice can be hulled before being polished, the quality of the product will be even better. Seeing the first tangible result of our MFP instilled a sense of pride in our team, which was only strengthened by the smiles and excitement on the faces of the Okidi community.
Despite the agitation and restlessness of the last few days, we left Okidi on Wednesday evening in higher spirits than the previous day. If we’ve learned anything this week, it would be that good things really do come to those who wait…and wait…and wait.
Shalni, Gabriella, and Eric
On our one day of rest after a long week of hard work, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to Sipi Falls. We left around 10am with Silas driving, Brian in the front, and Eric, Shalni, and Gabriella in the back. The stretch of road just south of Soroti was very rough. After way too much bouncing, we made it to smooth roads between Kumi and Mbale. Once we got to Mbale, the road to Sipi was actually very smooth and fast.
We arrived at the Sipi tour office about 1:30. We hired our guide who squished into the car with us, while his assistant rode in the back of the truck with our bamboo walking sticks. We drove to the first set of falls, parking in a small community before beginning our short hike. As we got out of the car it started to rain, and we soon found the trails quite slippery. Shalni and Gabriella found the trails particularly slippery in their TOMS shoes, and any semblance of cleanliness was soon lost for the whole team. The amazing mountain jungle scenery helped was worth it, and when we made it to the first set of falls I think everybody was quite impressed. The water cascaded down and crashed into the rocks in front of where we had hiked to, jettisoning spray into all of our faces and cameras (fortunately Shalni’s came back to life after an initial scare).
As we began to hike back to the car, the rain ceased and the clouds parted for the bright mountain sun, making the coffee and banana farms look even more impressive amongst the cliffs and waterfalls.
The second set of waterfalls may have been even more impressive than the first. Indeed the hike was shorter, and perhaps a little less muddy, thanks to the shining sun. The falls were particularly cool in that we hiked to a neat recess in the rocks right behind the twin falls, making for an incredible vista. Shalni even braved the raging falls and hiked with our assistant guide near the base of the falls to get some good views and to really explore what it means to be soaking wet (sadly, this did not bode well for the phone or camera in her backpack).
On our way to the third falls we stopped for a brief detour to a cave, but could not explore too far as nobody had a flashlight.
The third fall is the largest and what most people think of when you say “Sipi Falls” There are a number of authentic hotels at the top of the cliffs overlooking the falls. Though as it was getting late in the day, Silas suggested we forego the 3km hike to the base of the falls and just take some pictures from the cliff top. We took many photos and admired the falls, before loading up in the truck and heading back home. The road was especially rough, perhaps due to the hard rain during the day, and around 7:30, once it was completely dark outside, everybody was home safe.
These last couple days have been a blast! After some airport mishap and miscommunication, Brian finally arrived in Soroti late Thursday night. We now have a mentor – score!
Friday began early as we headed out to Angole for an evaluation meeting before we headed to Okidi to pour concrete.
Only members of the executive committee attended the meeting in Angole. There were initially 189 members of the MFP group, or the Angole Farmers Development Group. However, the number of members dropped to 70 as many were not able to pay the registration fee. Members of this group come from five different villages in the area. Customers come from 5 km to use the MFP but otherwise would have to travel at least 8 km to use the nearest MFP.
The executive committee members of Angole described some of the issues at the new site. One of the problems, which we were already briefed on by Pilgrim, is the poor quality of the processed rice from the combined maiz/rice huller. The community members grew much more rice this year in anticipation of the rice huller but now do not expect much profit. The community also raised concerns about the speed at which the belts were consumed. The community had already had to purchase new belts within the initial two months of owning the MFP. There seems to be an issue with the attachment of the mill, as the belt that is attached to the mill is shredded. Mze Paul will be visiting Angole shortly to rectify the problem. His work will not be considered complete (he will not be getting his last payment) until all parts are working properly. As of now, the community is only operating the huller as it only needs one belt to run. The huller was fixed last week and has been working since.
The community believes that these problems have cut into the group’s profit. As a result, the community has not yet been able to close the house. Furthermore, they are not paying the engine operator- the operator is only provided lunch. There are 6 trained operators, but only 1 operator works at any given time. The site manager, along with two assistants, is also usually at the MFP with the operator because the executive committee decided they did not want the operators collecting money. The MFP is usually running from 10 AM to the evening, but most customers do not go to the MFP until midday. Three to fourteen customers are expected per day. When more profit is realized, the group hopes to split some of it. Furthermore, they hope to complete the housing structure and add to it storage and an office. They also loan money with interest and begin their own projects. The community has been a part of numerous projects. They have been given maize and groundnut seeds, livestock such as goats and sheep, and have been trained in beekeeping. While the beekeeping failed, the other projects have continued and been successful. Hopefully this means that our project will be a success in the area as well. With the organization we saw from the operational logbooks and treasurer’s books, it seems likely that this will be the case.
The MFP group charges 600 shillings to mill one basin of cassava and 120 shillings per kilogram for hulling maize. The community has not yet decided on the oil press price as it has not yet been used besides from testing. While the community believes the lack of profit is a result of the MFP’s malfunction, it could be as a result of the low prices to use the MFP. Furthermore, the registration fee to become a member of the MFP group was 10,000 shillings, which is a significantly lower price than the registration fees in other communities. It is likely that the problem mainly stems from the low prices. Quantity of business is certainly not lacking, as the logbook is filled with names of customers. Also, the MFP has been using 40 L of fuel per month, meaning it must be very active! They paid 128,000 shillings for the 40 L of fuel from Soroti which they buy in bulk. They have also changed the oil once, but they are not aware of the price as the oil was provided by Pilgrim. The members have also not yet decided on the discount the members receive, as they have not sat down to discuss this. The general group has only met twice since they received the MFP and the executive committee only met three times. However, the executive committee complains that the general members do not come to the meetings when called.
As of now the MFP has been mainly used to process food for consumption. Very few community members grow sunflower. The community hopes to receive sunflower seeds and training on how to grow sunflower from Pilgrim. They then plan to sell sunflower oil in the market. Furthermore, if the rice huller begins producing a finer quality product, then the community members may also sell rice in the market. In addition to training for growing sunflower, the community hopes to have more training in management. Angella assured the attendees that Pilgrim will be returning for two more training sessions when the machine is operating properly. She also assured them that they will be receiving tools (crescent wrenches) so they can fix minor problems on their own. The community has an on-site technician who has already spoken to Mze Paul about the mill and has begun sorting the issue. Hopefully with some more tools he will be able to keep the engine and its attachments running. The community hopes to establish their bilaws this month and register with the subcommittee so they can open their bank account. Despite the issues with the machinery, the MFP is still aiding the community. Hopefully after a raise of prices, the group will benefit from a greater profit. With more training and tools, we have high hopes that this community will soon be self sustaining.
After Angole we drove to Okidi. There we met Okeju Richard, our contractor. A large group of adults and children from the community had gathered. They were both awaiting our arrival and admiring the shiny equipment in large wooden crates. After a little bit of mulling around and the contractor taking measurements, he used string and some wooden stakes to define the borders of the base so community members. At this point two or three members of the community started digging and within a few minutes there was the shape of a base frame about one foot deep.
Meanwhile outside, other community members began the concrete mixing process. This involved mixing sand and cement with shovels, and then raking into a flatter pile so that granite stones could be mixed in. Water was poured onto the pile and two or three people used shovels to mix all four ingredients thoroughly, one small pile at a time. Once a pile of good concrete mixture pile was mixed, it was shoveled into a wheelbarrow which was carted into the building and dumped into the pit. Shalni, Julius, and the contractor worked on distributing the concrete in the pit, and correctly placing the anchor bolts (which will ultimately hold the base frame to the concrete bed).
After a couple of hours of this work, and everybody trying their hand at one task or another, the foundation pouring was completed! Now we just have to wait for the contractor to pour the finishing layer of concrete and we will be able to assemble the machinery and the base frame early next week!
On Saturday we left around 10am to drive to Sugur to pour the concrete for their foundation. The process was almost identical to what we did in Okidi on Friday except much more streamline. All the digging, mixing, pouring, and anchor placement was finished in just two or three hours. Angela said a few closing remarks thanking the community for participating and showing their dedication to the project, and we departed home to wash the concrete splatter out of hair and clothes.
Angella called this morning to let us know that the contractor had not yet arrived in Soroti as he had insisted he would yesterday. Because of this, we were not able to pour the concrete in Sugur, but we still visited the older site in Tubur.
Silas, David, and Julius accompanied us to Tubur, where we met with the chairman and two engine operators of the Tubur Farmers Group (TFG), who are collectively in charge of the MFP. The Tubur Farmers Group comprises of 76 total members, who each paid a 23 000 shilling registration fee. We learned that there are five subgroups within this larger group, and that there were initially 100 members but some dropped out when the construction of the housing structure began. The TFG are committed to growing cassava, and previously, sunflower as well. However, they had stopped growing sunflower when the oil press component broke in May. Apparently, the machine gets clogged even when the seeds are manually fed through. They had a technician in to locate the problem, but even he was unable to fix it. The peak seasons for harvesting sunflower seeds are August and December to January.
The team was surprised to learn that there are two other milling machines located less than a kilometre away in either direction (both of which are older than this one). There is competition between these three mills, which all charge the same price, so naturally, the MFP gets most business when the other engines are not functioning. We were told that the other engines break down more frequently than the Lister one at this MFP. While the members did not know what kinds of engines were used at the other sites, they mentioned that they were a type of Chinese engines, and they were red, leading our team to suspect that they might be Changfas. However, one of the others recently invested in a huller, which detracted costumers from using the MFP site.
In general, the Tubur Farmers Group has not run into any major problems with the engine. In June, there was an issue with compression escape in one of the valves, though it was fixed in mid-June (cost of repair: 15 000 shillings) and has been working well ever since. We found out that basically none of the members of the TFG use the MFP, despite their 200-shilling discount, because most live quite far and prefer to use mills in their respective vicinities. Initially, this machine was meant to be in a different location, but the group decided to move it to the current one as they thought it would be a more central location and would attract a bigger market.
To use the milling machine, they charge 1000 shillings per basin of cassava, 3000 shillings for maize, and 4000 shillings for a mix of maize/sogum/millet/etc. For the oil press, they charge 14000 shillings for one 70-80kg sac of sunflower seeds. Occasionally people bring in some shea, but it is usually in very small amounts. Currently, the MFP site gets between 2 and 10 customers per day, and operates on a schedule dictated purely by demand (usually evenings, for convenience of customers). They use about 3 L of engine oil and 20 L of fuel per month. Overall, the machine is profitable, as last year they used the 400,000 shillings of profit made from June to December of 2012 to buy out the land upon which the site is situated (they had previously been borrowing the land from a member). However, since December, they have only made 80,000 shillings in profit. This significant decrease in revenue is primarily due to the breakdown of the oil press and the new huller at the competitor mill. If the oil press was in full working condition, they would expect at least 20 customers, just for the oil press, per day during peak season. The broken machinery has presented a huge loss in business for the group this season. The chairman determined that is all of the machinery was in perfect working condition with no technical difficulties, the MFP would generate 1.5 million shillings in net profit each year.
The Tubur Farmers Group has developed a plan for collectively growing, processing, and selling cassava. They plan to use the income generated by the MFP to extend the structure and build a computer lab for the group. Additionally, if finances allow, they would like to establish a poultry-keeping project for the community. The TFG meets twice a year, and the executive committee meets four times a year. At the last TFG meeting, there were only 20-25 members in attendance, as the others were busy tending to their gardens and some claimed they were not notified on time. The executive committee members have changed once, as the initial chairman was found to be putting his personal objective before the group. He was immediately kicked out and the current chairman was elected.
Another challenge that came up in discussion was changing the belts on the engine when they must switch between using the mill and the oil press. In addition to requesting a second engine to solve this problem, they also requested on behalf of the whole Tubur Farmers Group if Pilgrim could provide them with a maize huller so that they can keep up with their competition.
As we were walking back to the car after the meeting, Eric joined some kids who had started playing soccer when school was out. The kids were laughing and shouting gleefully, evidently quite impressed with the Mzungu’s skills. On the way back, Julius let us try some corn freshly picked in Tubur, and we gave him some of our North American fruit snacks.
Tonight, we plan to dine here at Golden Ark since Edward is driving Brian up to Soroti today. We are all very excited to finally meet our mentor, and we’re looking forward to pouring concrete with him in Okidi tomorrow!
Shalni, Gabriella, and Eric
Silas arrived early today, around 9 o’clock, so that we could get out to Okidi (coordinates: N 01°28.467’ E 033°21.862’) by 10am for our pre-implementation meeting. Today, Patrick (the finance minister at Pilgrim, Soroti) joined us in place of Angella. When we arrived there were a few members of the community putting the finishing touches on the mortar for the MFP building. From our arrival, we noted that the community was quite quiet compared to the two we visited yesterday, and they were extremely respectful; the young children even shook our hands and the women kneeled to greet us. We got together and had a meeting inside the housing structure, beginning and ending with a prayer. The building had a sturdy and well-made wooden door, something we haven’t seen at the other sites, though it still lacked shutters on the windows, a security issue that should probably be addressed by the committee once the engine is installed. At the meeting, there were about 10 members of the community at the start and 4 more latecomers.
The meeting was lengthy. Our team had many questions for the community, and received quite a lot of useful information. We were introduced to the members of the executive committee of the MFP as well as the registered members who were present. The executive committee had been chosen by election, where 61 voters were present. We learned that there are 45 registered members in total, though many were absent because they were busy with their harvest. Initially, the member fee had been 25 000 shillings, but it has since been increased to 35 000 to cover the expense of building the structure. We learned that Okidi itself is a parish comprised of four small villages, from which all the members hail. They expect that the MFP will be used by 25 villages, the farthest of which is 14 km away. Prior to installation of the MFP, farmers had to travel to the town of Serere (9 km away) to mill their cassava and maize, and all the way to Soroti (about 48 km away) to use an oil press. Because of this, farmers who used to grow sunflower stopped harvesting such crops, as it was not worth the time, cost, and hassle of travelling to Soroti to process them. Now, the main crops harvested in the Okidi area are maize, cassava, sogum, green peas, and rice. The community members told us that their biggest source of pride is the richness of their soil, as it is extremely fertile and moist, so it can grow a vast variety due to Okidi’s proximity to Lake Kyoga.
Additionally, we found out that there are four secondary schools and over twenty primary schools in the Okidi area. The nearest primary school has 1300 students. There are also many churches of various denominations, with a number of Pentacostal, Anglican, and some Catholic. The services are every Sunday, and the churches sometimes hold other programs, such as workshops etc, on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Some previous government-aided projects that the community has come together to work on include projects with Africare and NAADS. Everyone in the community is very excited about the MFP, as it will be the first of its kind in the area, and will be used by thousands of people throughout three sub-counties.
After ending the meeting with a prayer, we had a picture in front of the building and departed for Anyara. Unfortunately there is no way to cross the river between Okidi and Anyara, so we had to drive back to Soroti to cross before heading over to Anyara.
There were only 4 or so people for the meeting with Anyara (coordinates: N 02°01.024’ E 033°19.890’), but there was much to discuss. We got the impression that the community did not have anybody who was capable of making minor fixes to the engine. Because they had the attitude of relying on Pilgrim for everything, they were not establishing any self-sufficiency. For example, there was hose that has been leaking fuel for three weeks now, yet they only contacted Angella to notify her last week. They had wrapped a cloth around it but it still leaked. They complained about this problem but could not organize as a community to buy a hose clamp or three inches of vinyl tubing. While other communities, such as Orungo, had used the proceeds of the engine to hire a technician for repairs, Anyara had simply stopped using the MFP much and contacted Pilgrim to find someone to fix it for them.
We learned that the executive committee had still not opened a bank account to deal with finances. They also lacked an organized record of financial transactions, so it was difficult for our team to evaluate the financial success of the project. The executive committee was not even fully present at the meeting – apparently, Anyara was under the impression that Pilgirm was sending engineers to fix the leak today, not a CUEWB team to evaluate the state of the project.
There are 70 registered members in Anyara who paid a 25 000-shilling fee, which all went to building the housing structure. The 6 members of the executive committee were elected. The community comprises of five smaller villages within a 10 km radius, each of which has an elected leader registered as a member for the MFP group. The chairman informed us that an average of 30 members (less than half) show up at the regular meetings, and about 10-12 people showed up at the training sessions.
In terms of MFP usage, they have on average 6-8 customers per day when the MFP is in good working condition. An average customer processes between 10-20 kg of cassava. There are about 80 regular users from around the area, with occasionally some others from farther away when those other mills are not working. The frequency that an average farmer comes depends on the family size, though it can range from every 1-2 weeks to once a month. They charge 50 shillings per kilogram for milling cassava and 60 shillings for sogum. The machine is profitable when it works well, but profits are minimal to none right now because of the leakages. To date, they have not yet changed the oil filter or belts.
Initially following the installation of the MFP, there were a number of both technical and community-related issues. It seemed that commitment among the community was low, though we were told that sickness and harvest season are the main culprits for poor turnout at meetings. In the past, Anyara had a NAADS beekeeping project, but that was not sustained successfully for long. Additionally, Pilgrim once tried giving tomato and cabbage crops to the community, which were prospering and growing well under the care and keeping of community members, until a heavy rainstorm destroyed all the plants before they were fully grown. Hearing about this project was promising, as it showed that when a project is successful enough to cultivate interest, the community does have the dedication necessary to take care of it and help it grow independently.
Because the MFP has not yet been very profitable, the executive committee has not yet decided how they will allocate the income generated. As of now, they are planning to give dividends back to the registered members, though they have not earned enough profit to distribute yet. However, they asked us for our opinion on what to do with the profits, since a final decision had not yet been made. We asked if they had considered saving up to buy another component for the machine, and they said they wanted to seek advice from us and Pilgrim on what they should buy. Because we want this project to become independent, we asked them to think about what they would most benefit from, as none of us know the needs of the Anyara community better than its members. They told us that they harvest maize, cassava, millet, sunflower, sogum, rice, soy beans, simsim, ground nuts, peas, and beans. Once we got the discussion of possible machinery going, they expressed that if they could generate enough money, there would be a lot of potential for a brick-making machine. Also, because there is a nearby swamp, they mentioned that securing pumps in the fields for irrigation during dry season would help them produce a number of vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions, and cabbages. They had calculated that 10 acres of tomatoes would be 11 700 plants; if these all survived, they could generate 10 million shillings per year. Patrick had an idea about grinding millet, which is very viable. Currently, they don’t produce very good quality millet because sand gets in when it is ground. If proper concrete were put in place, they could grind it cleanly and easily, and if they could package it, they would be able to sell it very quickly and easily, as there is always a large demand for ground millet throughout Uganda.
The conversation in Anyara ended on a more positive note. We headed back to Soroti after a long day of field work, though not before playing and taking pictures with the children and dogs of the Anyara community. We went to the landmark hotel again for dinner, and we all went to bed before 10pm, ready to be up bright early to pour the concrete in Sugur tomorrow.
Gabriella, Shalni, and Eric