Staying business savvy to survive on the flower farm

Namatovu is the popular socks vendor among her colleagues. At the end of her work day, outside the changing rooms, she turns into a trader – showcasing her product, conducting negotiations, and recommending what pair and color of socks one should buy. Each pair goes for 2,000 Uganda Shillings (USD 0.54), earning her a 1,000 shillings (USD 0.27) profit. On market days in the Nsangi town where she resides, Grace buys second hand knee-length socks which she then resells to the woman at the farm. “I had this idea when we last attended a training workshop with Akina Mama. They told us that we could come up with ideas to supplement our salaries. I had realized that many woman here struggle to find socks to wear inside their gumboots, since we are not provided those. So I started this small enterprise.” One fellow worker says that it is helpful that she doesn’t have to go looking in markets when her socks are worn out; another one wishes the price for a pair went lower.

 Namatovu at her work station

Coming to the farm

“I was working as a food vendor, earning 3,000 shillings (USD 0.8) per day. I delivered breakfast and lunch to casual laborers and private sector workers, most of who would verbally harass me and sometimes refuse to pay for the food they ate. For every time a customer didn’t pay, my boss would deduct that amount off my salary. I was always tired and frustrated.”

From the town in which Grace lives, she always saw this farm’s green houses in a distance. She had heard only bad things. “When I asked around, people always dissuaded me. Many said that I would contract HIV/AIDS. I was skeptical too but I was tired of my job where even a plate breaking meant that I would be penalized.” On 20th July, 2014, Grace asked her friend, a boda-boda rider to bring her to the farm. At the farm, she asked the guards whether the farm needed workers. “They told me to return on the 26th, when they would be registering a new group. I did not have any money for transportation on the return date. So I reached out to my friend again. Grace’s friend rode her to the farm again. When she and the rest who had also come in search for employment had gathered, they were led inside for interviews. She had been the last one in the queue, and to be interviewed, yet her name was read first in the selections. Grace attributes these events to her relationship with God. “In those times I read the Bible often, and the word encouraged and affirmed me.”

Namatovu says that the life of many woman is a continued series of burden and frustrations caused by deadbeat fathers. The father of her two children, an 8 year old and a 4 year old, got up one day and left, leaving the responsibility of their kids to her alone. She tried to contact him through his brother, but it became exhausting so she made peace with his departure.  

On the job

Grace works from 7 am to 4.30 pm in flower growing, pinching (an activity similar to pruning), as well as weeding. She is grateful for work, although getting up so early, she admits, doesn’t afford her enough rest. “I have to make dinner for the kids when I get home after a long day. Then be up by 5 am to prepare them for school and get ready because the van that picks us to transport us to the farm arrives at 6 a.m.” Supervisors are often uncompromising. “They do not listen to us some times. Our backs hurt on the job, so when I stand up for a few minutes to stretch and rest, why should that get me a letter or caution?”

On back pain, she says that many woman leave after they have developed back complications. Complaints about back pain here might either get you taken to a clinic for treatment, or if you’re unfortunate, accused of having brought with you this “problem.” “Especially for the new workers, if they complain of back pain, often times they will be told: you must have already had it. How come others who have been here longer than you aren’t complaining?” There is a pregnant woman working in one of the green houses. Grace says that pregnant workers are entitled to a three months unpaid leave from early in the 3rd trimester – but many choose to stay up until the 8th month.

In green house number 7 where she often works, she shares a light moment with two male workers, who she later reveals work in irrigation. They seem to have a good working relationship, and she confirms that she has no complaints working alongside either of them.

What drives Namatovu is that she at least has a job from which she has managed to not only single-handedly feed and school her children, but also buy a piece of land. “Compared to what is out there, even if the money is little, I am grateful.” She and some of the women here have started a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) under which they deposit money on a monthly basis and lend it out to their members in their time of dire need.

Living as a woman

Namatovu says that the life of many woman is a continued series of burden and frustrations caused by deadbeat fathers. The father of her two children, an 8 year old and a 4 year old, got up one day and left, leaving the responsibility of their kids to her alone. She tried to contact him through his brother, but it became exhausting so she made peace with his departure.

“And it is not only me. Many women here are also struggling alone. Men have thrown all of the responsibility to us; from finding the kids’ schools, to buying all the necessities. Most of us withstand certain conditions because we have no help raising our kids, it’s all on us.” She has since found another partner with whom she lives, close to her sister who works in a salon in the same town. “Sometimes he (the partner) helps me with paying school fees. My sister also helps me a lot too. She drops and picks my children from school.”

The future

“When I leave here, I do not want to be employed anymore.” Namatovu hopes to set up a makeshift trailer container which she will turn into a grocery shop. “I have always also wanted to build my own house and stay in with my kids.”