The rhythm of life in many African agricultural communities is distinct. Farmers often start their day in the early hours, long before sunrise, setting out to tend to their farms and provide for their families. But amidst the hard work and commitment, there's a passion that unites them all: football. It's a love that transcends boundaries and has become the cornerstone of an innovative initiative by AgroSupply, a Catalyst Fund portfolio company in Uganda dedicated to building the resilience of smallholder farmers with climate-smart agriculture. AgroSupply provides farmers with a save-to-buy approach to accessing high-quality inputs through its digital platform.
Inspired by the love for football and requests from local youth, AgroSupply launched a football tournament exclusively for farmers. According to the AgroSupply team, this was a unique opportunity to onboard farmers, appreciate their talents, and foster community spirit.
The journey began in the district sub-county where AgroSupply onboarded its very first farmer, a symbolic choice representing their origins as a company and desire to give back to the community. In a move to encourage unity, AgroSupply started by calling the captains of established local teams to share the vision of the tournament, emphasizing the importance of appreciating farmers. Then, AgroSupply then took a step back, allowing the teams to self-organize and adjudicate the tournament, while acting as a sponsor and providing the equipment and prize money. With farmers from eight parishes competing in a sub-county, AgroSupply contributed prizes for the participants. Every team received two balls, with the winning team taking home US$120. There were also cash prizes and uniforms for the second (US$90) and third-place (US$50) teams, with remaining cash (approx US$60) divided among all teams as a token of appreciation.
At the first match, AgroSupply set up a booth to engage farmers by giving them agricucultural advice and signing them up to the platform. On the first day, a whopping 150 farmers signed up and a number of these farmers bought AgroSupply’s product there on the spot. However, because AgroSupply uses commission-based agents who earn when onboarding farmers and selling product, they found this booth-approach was unfair and limited the agents’ earnings. In response, at future matches, agents were disbursed at the event and were encouraged to interact with a wide range of farmers and attendees instead of having a single centralized booth.
By the grand final, which coincided with Ugandan Independence Day, over 5,300 attendees were present, with hundreds of new farmers registered. Moreover, AgroSupply's agents, integral to the community, played a pivotal role in onboarding and sales - and also had opportunities to deepen their relationships with farmers.
This strategy wasn’t just about signing up new farmers – it was also about establishing trust and building relationships. More than just a sponsorship opportunity for AgroSupply, this football tournament was an entirely novel approach that illustrates the untapped potential of community engagement.
Beyond the football pitch, AgroSupply recognizes opportunities in incorporating various community-building activities and collaborating with other companies and organizations. This includes bringing in motivational speakers to address topics such as education and using these tournaments as opportunities to engage communities with climate change information. Additionally, they intend to explore the potential of utilizing the primary school pitches where these matches are held to more deeply engage with local youths. AgroSupply cares about farmers, not just in terms of their farming activities, but holistically as whole people existing within communities that deserve appreciation and support.
“We’re not just here to provide seeds: we're here for the community.” - Ogwal Joseph, Founder and CEO, AgroSupply
Feedback from the community was overwhelmingly positive, with many hoping for another edition in a new district next year. AgroSupply’s agents said that within this sub-county every farmer now knows about the company, thanks to the widespread popularity of the tournament. Building on these successes, and the convening power of holding the finals on Uganda’s national holiday, AgroSupply aims to replicate the model in 2024 - and with more time to plan, they hope to develop a better event series and generate even more engagement.
For entrepreneurs looking to make a mark, AgroSupply’s approach offers a valuable lesson: it's not just about selling a product or service, it's about understanding your customers deeply, engaging with their passions, and building lasting relationships. When you walk a mile in their shoes, not only do you understand them better, but you also pave the way for loyalty and trust. Because, at the end of the day, success isn't just about transactions; it's about genuine connections.
In the words of AgroSupply’s Founder and CEO, Ogwal Joseph, "Think beyond selling to your customers. What else do your customers need? Create genuine bonds with them, see what they like, what they love, and be there with them to celebrate those things. Everlasting bonds will make them keep coming back each and every time."