A conversation with Joachim Ewechu and Hannes Van den Eeckhout, co-founders of Rootical, a start-up studio that enables purpose-driven entrepreneurs in Uganda to build and own their regenerative agri-food companies. We talk about why Uganda is the place to launch and build agroecology, regenerative agriculture, and food companies, why Uganda enjoys political support for agroecology, the importance of different steward-type ownership models, the importance of different investment models, and more.
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Join a journey where we discuss why the biggest impact in regenerative agriculture can be made on the African continent, unpack the key differences between a startup studio and an incubator or accelerator, and why the start-up studio model is so exciting.
UGANDA ENJOYS POLITICAL SUPPORT FOR AGROECOLOGY
According to Joachim, the most important part is the political goodwill that the agroecology and regenerative agriculture movements are enjoying at the moment. There’s a lot of alignment between the President and the Minister of Agriculture of Uganda in the principles of agroecology and regenerative agriculture, to the extent that organisations like Monsanto have been kept out.
”It’s a combination of having a president who wants food security; that’s important. But also, secondly, having a president who believes in the traditional methods of doing things and who believes in a pan-African movement, sometimes to the detriment of progress. But also, in this case, this has saved us a lot from going around with GMOs and large agriculture companies. […] I don’t know how much of us we can protect after our president is gone. Because there’s a lot of pressure from different angles, as you know, the large agriculture companies. But this is one of the areas that he has been stubborn about….” – Joachim Ewechu
THE BIGGEST IMPACT IN REGEN AG CAN BE MADE ON THE AFRICAN CONTINENT
In Uganda, there are a lot of people who are practicing agriculture for their main livelihood, which makes it an interesting place for the agroecology revolution. And in terms of soil degradation, while they’re doing badly, they are not doing so badly, and there’s an opportunity to go back and rebuild biodiversity and soils.
”And kind of return us back and rebuild biodiversity and soils. I think that’s the moment we’re in right now. But then there are also other things that are going on, including things like organic agriculture, and organic farming has been very popular here. We have the highest number of organically certified farmers.” – Joachim Ewechu
”Uganda is located about 1000 metres above sea level and has quite a lush green environment overall. And very favourable agroecological conditions in general, and abundant water resources. However, we also see that you can really observe quickly degrading environments, soils, water resources, and so on. So, I think we’re really getting close to a tipping point, maybe, and so this provides a huge opportunity to regenerate those watersheds, to regenerate those communities and soils, and to also build or improve the livelihoods of those millions of small farmers. And that’s a parallel that I’ve seen from Peru to India to Uganda: that in rural economies, agriculture and the regenerative kind, preferably, are really key to unlocking livelihood improvements for millions of small farmers in Uganda in this case.” – Hannes Van den Eeckhout
THE IMPORTANCE OF DIFFERENT STEWARD-TYPE OWNERSHIP MODELS
If Hannes had a magic wand to change one thing overnight, he would change the rules of the game called ‘Capitalism’ and, in particular, venture capitalism.
”I believe steward ownership is a way to do that. So, I would magically apply steward ownership to all existing and new businesses worldwide. I think that we see the typical flaws of venture capitalism and, overall, growing and staggering levels of inequality. 1% of the world owns more than all the rest of us combined. And the way our businesses are financed, managed, and owned also leads to these flaws of capitalism as I see them.” – Hannes Van den Eeckhout
”The fact that more money leads to more ownership, and typically founders, initially purpose-driven founders, also tend to lose ownership fast as they raise more money, and that also leads to the dilution of the values and ideas behind the startup initially, let alone selling to the highest bidder.” – Hannes Van den Eeckhout
THE KEY DIFFERENCES OF A STARTUP STUDIO VS. INCUBATOR OR ACCELERATOR AND WHY IT IS SO EXCITING
Joachim explains the differences between the studio model and the other models they are implementing in Uganda at the moment.
”We have the incubator, Generation Food Uganda, that is now evolving into another wider programme called AfriFOODlinks. So, that’s an incubator, and it takes existing ideas and helps incubate them and helps them to grow. And then you have the accelerator model, which focuses on already existing ideas that have a lot of traction; we’re helping them accelerate their growth. For the studio model, we’re working with pre-idea entrepreneurs; we’re focusing on entrepreneurs who have managed to come up with an idea, and we help them come up with their own ideas during the studio process. We work with them to identify the problem, follow up on it, and then come up with the idea that they want to work on. But what is exciting among all these models- for me, what excites us about Rootical, the studio model- is this opportunity to build the purest forms of regenerative agriculture businesses from the beginning.” – Joachim Ewechu
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen, Joachim and Hannes also talked about:
- The importance of different investment models
- How taste let to focus on agro ecology
- Regenerative agriculture and its potential to feed Ugandan consumers
- The food assembly
- Fresh Ventures Studio
- Project Farming Systems Comparison in the Tropics
- Purpose economy on steward ownership
- Grounded Investment
- Edie Mukiibi – From a small farm in Uganda, disillusioned by hybrid seeds and agrochemicals, to leading a global movement for good, clean and fair food
- Bart van der Zande on building the world’s first regenerative startup studio
- Bart van der Zande – Thanks to the learning of the 1st, the world 1st regenerative venture studio gets ready for the 2nd cohort
- Thimm Zwiener – Using chat GPT and the best regen advisors to create a regenerative hotline for all
- Nicolas Enjalbert – Let’s disrupt the oligopoly seeds industry, currently bad for everyone, people, planet and flavour
- Dan Barber, great flavour, health benefits and healthy ecosystems can only come from healthy soils not a lab
- Armin Steuernagel on how to keep a mission driven company independent and raise capital
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.