Young Ugandan follows passion designing affordable growing towers

Matovu spent his early childhood in Namungoona, a Kampala suburb with his father, a bus driver. However, after his father’s death in 1996, the then seven-year-old was taken to live with his grandparents in Binikira village, Kassanda district. “In town, I would earn from doing odd jobs such as fetching water for neighbors. However, life in the village was tough,” he says. In addition, life in the village taught him to work hard, be responsible and respect people. He also became passionate about agriculture.

In 2014, in his final year at university, Matovu ventured into vertical and micro-urban farming. He trained urban dwellers to grow food in small spaces in sacks and polythene bags. Meanwhile, as a scientist, Matovu believes in experimenting, testing, and improving his products. He took time to study the challenges faced in sack gardening and sought solutions.

“I received $1,000 (sh3.7m) funding from the solution fund of Ideas Uganda,” he says. This was his capital. Each year, the fund facilitates 10 youth entrepreneurs to come up with environmental conservation projects across the country. Youths apply and the best projects are selected.

“I spent part of this money on research, testing, and piloting,” Matovu says. "I spent sh810,000 (about 200 EUR) on the first garden, which the carpenter took three months to design,” he says. To earn a profit, he had to sell the garden at sh1m. This meant that the garden was unaffordable for the low-income earners Matovu was targeting. With funding from IFU, he subsidized the price for five gardens and sold them to the community at half-price. In 2017, Matovu registered his business and even scooped an innovation award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That inspired him to work harder.

In 2018, he started producing his gardens and the cost was reduced to sh260,000. “It was a long process that took me years — from 2014 to 2018 when I started selling these gardens,” he says. Up to 2019, Matovu had only sold 45 gardens, but in 2020 alone he sold 300 farms and he has never looked back. Currently, he produces three farms a day at sh260,000 (about 60 EUR) each.

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