As part of our Integrated Giving program, GPS is helping a village in Padibe, Kitgum, Uganda to commission a sunflower seed press, a first step in turning around the economy of a region still recovering from Joseph Kony’s reign of terror.
First some background regarding the geography and sociology surrounding the project whose official name is St. Francis Sunflower Press in Padibe Parish, Uganda.
Padibe is in the Lamwo district of Northern Uganda which borders Sudan. For over two decades it has been ravaged by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Rebellion Army (LRA) which torched villages, murdered villagers and kidnapped children to grow its army. Many of you will be familiar with Kony from the Kony 2012 documentary and associated “Stop Kony” viral campaign that resulted in a United States resolution “condemning Joseph Kony and his ruthless guerrilla group for a 26-year campaign of terror”. The majority of Northern Uganda peoples were driven into protective camps during this time.
With Kony finally moving out of the area and eventually into the Congo, the people of Padibe started emerging from the camps about 4 years ago, with little to return to in their villages – no livestock and overgrown fields. These impoverished people were in need of a hand up. Non-governmental organizations helped to fill the gap and at that time a future GPS employee was also becoming involved.
Prior to coming to GPS as a consultant, Shawn Alexander had donated his time, know how, and energy working with the Three Holy Women’s Global Solidarity Ministry. In 2007 he visited Padibe for the the first time while most of the population was still in the refugee camps. The Ministry’s early projects centered around security and water purification. As the most basic of needs were starting to be met, a vision for a cash crop supply chain was formed by the local people that centered around sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are relatively easy to grow in the fertile soil of northern Uganda and the oil that is pressed from the seed is used for cooking and has the potential of export from Lamwo into southern Uganda and Sudan. One of the biggest challenges for the farmers of Lamwo was that the nearest press was over 40 km away, for many, an arduous task for many who would deliver the 60 kg bags of seed by foot or by bike. Shawn went to work with others in Three Holy Women Global Solidarity Ministry to raise the $80K+ that was required to purchase and ship a press and the generator and began to form the CO-OP that would govern the operation.
In 2012 the funds for the equipment were secured and the people of the Padibe Parish, now led by Father Romano Ouma, were challenged to build the structure that would house the press. This was completed late in the year and the press was purchased in India with delivery set for early April 2013. While the Indian company was sending an engineer to install the press, the farmers of Padibe, fresh from the camps, had little experience setting up a business of this size and type.
This is where GPS entered the scene. In 2012, Shawn’s work grabbed the interest of Gary Cone, Chris Carlson, and Matthias Bauer all of whom signed up to help the CO-OP set up business. After reviewing and editing the business plan that was prepared by the COOP, the four booked flights at their own cost with GPS covering their time through the Giving Back fund. The newest element of the GPS Giving Back program was established in 2011 to assist non-profits that are making a difference in the world with process improvement. The sunflower press operation was a perfect fit.
During the two weeks spent in Uganda from 7 to 19 April, the four man team would guide the installation of the press and the first week of operation. The GPS team spent the first week splitting their time between the Padibe installation, visiting nearby villages that would be impacted by the press, and touring the nearest press operation in the small city of Kitkum. With the team now on site customer and product flow was established, business plans including pricing were refined, and a number of installation challenges, especially around sunflower oil storage and dispensing were overcome creatively in a geography with few supplies and resources. The biggest challenges, however, were found to be in a required shifting of the cultural thinking. Safety, cleanliness, and ergonomics were all but ignored in the operations that were seen in northern Uganda. With no example of what good looks like in these areas, the GPS team worked constantly with members of the operations team to drive these important concepts home. From 5S principles to designing safety guards for machines to reducing bag sizes so that a single worker could move WIP without injury, the team kept the messaging firm and constant throughout the period that they were in Padibe.
At the villages, the team was received like rock stars – a testimony to the work that Shawn and his group had accomplished in years prior. Shawn instilled in all of the GPS team an important theme – that real relief efforts don’t come as a result of simply giving money, but are most effective when long term relationships are built. Villagers with very little means prepared celebrations complete with dancing, drama, tours, music, speeches and food. The importance of planting sunflower seeds to helping the local economy was communicated at every stop. At the village of Lokung the team was especially touched by a group of women who, after dancing, told their stories through a translator of the war and the camps. One woman had all five children kidnapped by Kony’s LRA and had not returned. Another saw her husband killed. It was gut wrenching to the point that it was decided that one day would be spent planting donated sunflower seed for the women of Lokung which was done in week 2. In technical terms the team was moving up the value stream with the planting of seed, but there was nothing technical about this visit – all of the team members had been deeply impacted by these and many other stories of the same theme.
Week 1 ended with the Grand Opening Celebration of the press that was attended by government officials and many other people of the Lamwo District – a testimony to the importance of the operation. The day featured a tour of the facility and the first bottle of oil that had been extracted from the press during a pilot run the previous day.
The second week was spent finishing the oil storage system and refining the processing of incoming seed. The team divided effort with 2 always remaining at the press to teach business processes while continuing preparations for full scale production, and the other 2 team members continuing the village visits. The villagers had started bringing seed on their bicycles and by mid week the press had been started and was producing oil and cake – a byproduct that would be sold to piggeries in the region.
By the end of the stay, the sunflower press operation still had much refinement left to go, but the press was open for business and the GPS impact was evident. Relative to other factories in the area, Padibe was cleaner, safer, and more efficient. For the farmer, the operation was designed so that they would receive their sunflower oil within minutes of dropping off their seed, not the days of waiting that was experienced in other press operations (again, think bicycle for 30km on underdeveloped, clay roads that are often washed out). The brand new press at Padibe is an important foundational element that will help good people that have suffered through way too much bad in their lives to begin to experience better economic conditions. It is important to reiterate that the sunflower press was suggested by the people in Padibe, it will be run by the people in Padibe, it will generate a profit in Padibe, and that the profit will enable future businesses in Padibe. Already the COOP is talking about using the proceeds from the press to buy a truck to help farmers with transportation, or a tractor to help prepare the fields. For the village of Lamwo that has always had hope and optimism for a better life, the great news is they now have an economic engine to fuel future growth. .
As for the GPS team, they all agree that the people of Padibe were the ones who were really Giving Back. Thanks Louis, Father Ramano, Christine, Tommy, Frances, Father Ceasar, Robert, Michael, Sister Judith, Otim, Charles, and everyone else involved in this amazing project.
Download the full image pack: Uganda_Pictures.zip (22MB)