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Nile Breweries’ Local Enterprise Agriculture Programme has made a significant and  lasting difference to the fortunes of farming communities in Uganda by creating new market opportunities and improving skills

Sorghum is a plant related to sugar cane that is tolerant to heat and drought, making it a staple crop in arid regions of the world such as Africa, Central America and South Asia. With around 30 varieties currently under cultivation, sorghum is used for human and animal food, biomass – and making beer.

The pioneer of sorghum beer was Uganda’s Nile Breweries Limited (NBL), which in collaboration with Ugandan government scientists developed a special strain of sorghum, named Epuripur or Special Sorghum, which is ideal for brewing. NBL launched its sorghum-based Eagle Lager in 2002, subsequently rolling out the brand to Zambia in 2005.

Eagle has been a huge success: within five years of its launch, it represented around half of NBL’s sales in Uganda. Eagle is the public face of a long-term project by NBL to promote farming as a business within  Uganda. This is called the Local Enterprise Agriculture Programme (LEAP) and it is a great example of how commercial interests and community benefits come together. At its heart was NBL’s desire to bring down the cost of beer by replacing expensive imported raw materials with locally-sourced ingredients, and then engaging with Uganda’s government to secure excise concessions for beer brewed using home-grown ingredients and helping improve livelihoods.

Initially, farmers supplied the brewery through contracted agents but as part of the LEAP initiative they were encouraged to form growers’ associations to deliver their crops directly to the brewery. Farmers were also provided with training to enhance their farming and entrepreneurial skills, while NBL worked closely with public bodies to help farmers develop a deeper understanding of farming as a business and the ways in which yields could be improved.

Promoting female empowerment is a key aspect of the programme. Women are currently leading half of the top ten farmer associations that supply sorghum to NBL. While almost a third of farmers are operating under women-led groups and around a quarter of the sorghum crop delivered to NBL is from women-led groups. And in 2014, 26% of income paid for sorghum by NBL went to women-led groups.

The programme is also helping farmers to secure their families’ futures through education and healthcare programmes. But while the intangible benefits to Uganda’s farmers are important, the hard numbers are also encouraging. In 2013, NBL’s gross direct payments to farmers amounted to US$4m for sorghum. In total, NBL provides a direct market for more than 20,000 sorghum farmers, with a further 180,000 people indirectly involved in Nile Breweries’ value chain. Since the launch of LEAP, the home-grown contribution to NBL’s brewing crop requirements has shot up from 13% in 2002 to 77% in 2013.

Nile Breweries has also secured an excise rate of 30% for Eagle Lager instead of the 60% levied on beer brewed from imported ingredients, enabling us to sell Eagle at a lower price to consumers and make it an affordable alternative to unregulated and dangerous illicit brews.

This ground breaking project that has brought immense benefits to small farmers while making our local business the number one brewer in the market was recognised recently at the inaugural Mackay Awards. A year after putting Prosper at the heart of our business strategy, the Mackay Awards were held to recognise and reward the initiatives by SABMiller teams around the world which best contribute to our shared imperatives and 2020 targets.

LEAP is a great example of public private partnership at work, and has inspired a similar approach in a number of other African markets.

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