Pamela Anyoti Peronaci was born and raised in Uganda during one of the most difficult periods in the country’s history. Under the reign of the dictator Idi Amin, for years Anyoti Peronaci’s parents struggled to provide basic things for their children. “I didn’t have shoes for ten years of my life,” says Anyoti Peronaci. “In order to work, you need peace.”
And there was no peace in Uganda. After Amin, the region was devastated again by a civil war caused by Joseph Kony’s rebel group that lasted almost 20 years. “There was a lot of misery and a lot of people disappearing.”
But Anyoti’s family managed somehow, and her father pulled enough money together to send the children to school. “In Uganda, nature is on our side, and so we got by with what the land could provide.”
When Amin finally fled Uganda, Anyoti was able to complete her schooling and from there she moved on to study Political Sciences and International Law at Makerere University, the main university in Uganda to secure an undergraduate degree. It was here that she met her future husband, an Italian diplomat stationed in Uganda. They married and began a life together that would take them around the world to places like Japan, Rome, Paris and Brussels.
When they moved to Japan in 1994 it was the first time Anyoti Peronaci could truly see what life was like in different countries and she thought to herself, “Why is it that in my country we can’t get better?” That realization gave her purpose and from Japan she organized an NGO to support the primary school in Uganda she had attended. At the time, the school had only 182 students. Over the years, with Anyoti Peronaci’s help, that number rose to more than 1,200.
“I thought to myself, whatever I can do to help my country I will.”
In the meantime, Anyoti Peronaci and her growing family moved to Rome, and she secured a Master of Science degree in agricultural economics from the University of London Wye College and began working for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Her experience here and in Japan were critical building blocks for Anyoti Peronaci’s ultimate second act – supporting the farmers of Uganda.
In 2002, her family left Rome moved to Paris then in 2005 moved and settled in Brussels where they currently live. By this time, Anyoti Peronaci and her husband had three children and many contacts from their international careers. She was thinking a lot about how she could really make a difference to her homeland. She decided the key was to move the farmers from subsistence and dependency farming to real production.
While Anyoti Peronaci had a solid background in agricultural economics, she lacked the business and trade skills needed to make such a move happen. But she knew an old friend in Brussels who was doing agribusiness, and she reached out to him with her idea – a business that would combine NGO-type support to the farmers while putting into place a means of production and distribution.
He was convinced and in 2007 they established Sunshine Agro Products Ltd., a social enterprise in Uganda that reinvests all profits back into the business. Sunshine’s goal is to create sustainable agriculture in rural Uganda by giving the farmers seeds, training them and then buying back their products. This is key to the venture. Sunshine guarantees to buy back then sell the commodities in world markets. Thanks to her business partner, Avigdor Hachamoff, who has been engaged in commodity trade for nearly 40 years, Anyoti Peronaci has learnt international trade skills and is now actively marketing those commodities in international markets from her Brussels-based office. “One fundamental key to market penetration is to have a mentor and he has been a great mentor and has introduced me widely to many business clients across Europe.” Anyoti Peronaci herself shuttles constantly between Brussels and Uganda to manage the business and check on her excellent team of mainly female managers.
Sunshine started with 15 contract farmers and in just seven years they now have 10,000 registered participants. Anyoti Peronaci describes the process of getting financing as “a Herculean task.” And even a heavier lift? The task of training the farmers who had never heard the world ‘quality’ to produce chilis and herbal teas that were ready for mass international consumption.
“I once mentioned to the farmers that to produce the best crop they had to take care of post-harvest management to avoid microbiological contamination because the clients buying their goods were packaging them for supermarkets. Then a farmer asked me, `What is a supermarket?’ I was at a loss, but that’s when I really understood it was going to be a long walk.”
It’s a long walk not without setbacks. There are certainly droughts and market fluctuations in pricing, but regardless Sunshine maintains its commitment to the farmers. Anyoti Peronaci’s determination not only enabled Uganda’s chilis to be shipped all over the world, but now its farmers are expanding into new crops like cocoa, ginger, chamomile, and 23 others. “In order to get better prices for our farmers, we decided to create our own brand called ‘Asante Mama’ www.asantemama.com to market these products ‘from farm to table’ directly.” Asante Mama means thank you mama in Swahili. “We chose this name because farmers were always telling me thank you mama but also because we are all thankful to the land that gives us these wonderful crops.” And for being thankful to the land, she has also instituted into an environmental program to plant trees. Sunshine Agro farmers are obliged to plant 20 trees each as a means of conserving the environment and mitigating climate change.
“I work with the poorest of the poor – people at the bottom of the pyramid, people who are stuck into subsistence and out of the market, so for me, the most important testimonial has been that the farmers I work with are now all able to send their children to school. One man even said to me, ‘My life is better because my wife loves me more now that I bring money home.’”
Next month, Anyoti Peronaci will try to take her next step and introduce her Asante Mama goods to the US Market at the Organic and Natural Products Expo West, in Los Angeles.
“I decided that I would do my best to contribute something to that community even though the change I can contribute would be very small.”
But honestly, the only thing small about Anyoti Peronaci’s contribution is the way she talks about it.
- Having been born in troubled times, in a poor and backward society, I was lucky to marry and work in affluent societies. In the meantime, I never forgot where I came from. My real passion was going back to my roots, working with the poorest of the poor. The vision of my business concept is that ‘everyone must have means to a decent livelihood’ and the mission of my company is ‘doing business and doing good’.