The Japanese are well known the world over for being efficient, precise and so highly sensitive about integrity that legend has it they will commit suicide painfully (‘hara-kiri’, or ‘seppuku’) if their personal reputations ever come into question.
It is the first two characteristics that make them such manufacturing and logistics superheroes that they have produced more cars than any other country in the world for the last fifty years.
They even came up with, and rolled out to the rest of the world, a concept called ‘Kaizen’, described as “the practice of continuous improvement…recognised an important pillar of an organisation’s long-term competitive strategy.”
In Uganda, the vast majority of our interaction with Japan is obviously the second hard vehicles that we shuttle about in…or so we thought:
Late last year I went for an Organic Farmer’s fair at the Acacia Mall; every other Saturday the Mall opens its rooftop up to small scale or cottage industries and sectors
in Uganda to exhibit and sell their wares – a corporate social initiative we don’t often see but that is high impact for the beneficiaries.
That day the exhibition was staged by NOGAMU – the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda.
The exhibitors were mostly ladies, and their wares were exciting to see, especially for a chap like me who dabbles in backyard gardening and hopes to one day do some full-blown agriculture.
I walked through the displays of sugarcanes, paw-paws, fence, some massive cassava tubers, and even smoked fish. Weaving through the table stands I was pleasantly surprised to find that they even had packed products such as herbal teas and dried fruit snacks, all the way to soaps and oils.
The ladies (and a couple of young fellows) were all pleasant, welcoming and courteous – and they even had bits of products for us to chew on or sample, as part of their effort at enticing us to buy – “jaribu”, we used to call that, back in the day.
When we eventually got to the checkout table I was surprised to find I was being processed by a young Japanese lady – wearing one of those hats (you know the ones) but without a camera slung round her neck.
She wrote down my purchases quite neatly in a ledger, did the mental maths, then punched the numbers into a calculator to double check before writing me my receipt.
“What is this about?” I asked her, and she handed me her http://www.on-the-slope.com business card. We couldn’t engage in the type of lengthy discussion I would have wanted to, as she was at work and perhaps my enthusiasm was more than she cold bear at the time.
But I accosted one of her Ugandan colleagues, a very well-spoken young lady, who also gave me a business card and offered to make products available for home delivery if I so wished.
That is a whole different story, so I’ll stick to this one.
I went to the www.on-the-slope.com website and found the tab ‘Uganda Project’, and scrolled through many nice photographs of ordinary, healthy-looking Ugandans in healthy-looking upcountry rural locations holding up healthy-looking fruits and vegetables.
The quality of the photographs was not surprising since the Japanese famously make those cameras and lenses, but it was pleasing to see such positive energy about Uganda on a foreign website.
The text was in Japanese so Google translate didn’t tell me enough of what was happening, so I still don’t know much about this project besides the obvious – the Japanese are promoting Uganda’s organic produce.
The lady working with NOGAMU is part of the project, probably here short term to intern or do some skills transfers.
More importantly, to me, if the Japanese are here promoting Uganda’s organic agriculture, shouldn’t we be taking more notice ourselves?
It would appear, from that website and other links it led me to, that some organic food is already being exported to Japan! Are we exchanging this food for the second hand cars? Definitely not – but somebody else pointed out to me that we should be doing so in a big way, because:
Japan appreciates us. Japan likes organic food. Japan has no space for growing their own food. We have that space. We grow organic food quite easily. We are good enough for the reputation-sensitive Japanese to come here and identify with us.
Quod erat demonstrandum.