The story of Agri Evolve started in 2010 at Reading University, UK. Johnny Rowland, a budding Agronomist studying Tropical Agriculture, heard his parents recount inspiring stories from their time spent living and working in rural Uganda. Johnny decided it was something he wanted to experience for himself post-university.
Utilising his parents connections. Johnny, joined by his childhood friend James Wilkinson decided they would travel to the Rwenzori mountains to try their hand at creating agricultural projects, and in the process founded the profit-for-purpose business 'Agri Evolve'.
How did it all begin?
Working for a Rural Development centre in Kagando known as KARUDEC. Jonny and James set out in supporting individual farms in their traditional farming practises. This focus on the individuals highlighted the importance of the bigger-picture-potential for Johnny and James, and so they set their sights to work supporting entire communities of farmers, maximising the positive impact that they could bring to the Rwenzoris.
A consistent problem presented itself for farmers based in the Rwenzoris. They had coffee, but no access to basic harvesting or processing facilities. This coupled with traders offering often unfair prices for their crops in a quick cash grab set the scene for a positive operator to enter the region and transform coffee.
This opportunity for Johnny and James to work alongside farmers was exactly what he was looking for. Offering an outlet for farmers to sell their unprocessed coffee, take ownership of the quality control and together improve the reputation of the coffee produced in the Rwenzori.
They guaranteed a fair market price and their long-term presence attracted international attention from buyers around the world. Rwenzori coffee had been reinstated on the global coffee map.
Founding Agri Evolve
In 2016 Agri Evolve originally started as a collection point for both Dried Ugandan Arabica (DRUGAR) and cherries. The typical approach to processing coffee in the Rwenzori Mountains has been for farmers to process it themselves. Typically drying cherries on tarpaulin in the sun. Sourcing this DRUGAR was considerably easier in the beginning than trying to purchase ripe cherries, it turns out old habits do die hard!
Following investment in processing equipment, demonstration farms and hiring experienced staff. The second-year harvest was a drastic improvement in terms of sourcing unprocessed ripe cherries.
After this first season, processing facilities improved considerably and new equipment introduced, including; a washer separator, mechanical dryers, Hulling machine and green-houses - all introduced to the station.
The interest in Agri Evolve grew amongst the farming community as they were seen as a stable, reliable place to sell coffee, consistently paying good prices and always paid on time, which - as basic as it is - made a huge difference for farmers.
By the end of the second season Agri Evolve was given some outstanding reviews from a Japanese importer who thought the African Moon coffee was fantastic and "full of potential", which in turn kickstarted the interest in sourcing and processing high-quality Rwenzori Coffee.
Over the course of the next 5-years Agri Evolve rapidly expanded to become the largest employer in the Kisinga Region bringing new economic stability and job opportunities to the community. This growth was driven by an ever-increasing reputation for high-quality coffee from the Rwenzori Mountains.
With a focus on staff empowerment and education, Jonny managed to build the team to over 50 skilled individuals sourcing and processing coffee from thousands of farmers across the Rwenzori mountains. The focus in recent years has shifted to building a new station in Bugoye.
Introducing Buying Centres in strategic locations across the Rwenzori has been one of the catalysts for growth. Creating a constant physical presence encourages farmers that Agri Evolve is going to be there come the harvest, The convenient locations for farmers also drastically reduce the effort required to travel to market