Farming in the city: Ugandan start-up makes equipment for vertical agriculture

Vertical and Micro Gardening is a Ugandan company that builds farm towers to make farming a viable micro-enterprise for low-income earners in urban centers. These towers are designed for horticultural crops such as spinach, onions and coriander. The company was started in 2014. 

"Our company is called Vertical and Micro Gardening (VMG). We are a homegrown Ugandan enterprise that designs, manufactures and distributes vertical farm growing kits. In addition, we have other products including packaged soil and we offer agricultural extension services, particularly to urban communities," Paul Matovu, the founder, explains. 

"The first funding came from IDEAS For Us, the umbrella body of the IDEAS Movement based in Orlando, Florida, through a micro-grant called the Solution Fund. It gave us the first $1,000 to do the prototyping and the community extension. Later, we were given the second $1,000. We obtained more funding from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, McGinnity Family Foundation, Ruforum, The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation and other awards. On top of that, we were making some sales of vertical farms, seedlings as well as charging people for extension services. These returns are what have kept us going. We have also received some loans, most significantly from Unconventional Capital."

"I have seen other companies in Uganda and East Africa that are trying to replicate our product. Some have even plagiarized our audio-visual materials and written content. We understand there will always be competition but we have to find a way of constantly improving our product and be the market leader in terms of urban vertical farming in the region. There is a need for national and regional patenting and registering of trademarks.

The other risk is fluctuation in prices. The vertical farms are largely made out of timber and timber prices fluctuate quite extensively. The timber we use could be UGX 8,000 one day and then UGX 11,000 on another. However, we have set a standard market price for the product. To address this challenge, we are looking into other materials like toughened nylon, steel and concrete, as well as a wood-plastic composite."

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