In almost 5 years dealing with Uganda we have considerable insight into the needs, opportunities and barriers to doing business in Africa. Lack of reasonable financing for private sector housing is major problem, as well as low cost solutions. We have (in my opinion) discovered an option for safe, affordable housing in the form of EcoShells, shown at the left in a village in Indonesia. Since these are made with local concrete and labor, the costs of construction are much less than conventional construction. They are energy efficient, maintenance free and capable of withstanding earthquakes, fires, hurricanes and even tornadoes.

We intend as well to provide solar energy, either on individual units or solar farms to serve a village, and incorporate high energy Lithium-Ion-Phosphate batteries for energy storage. The village, or individual units, will be equipped as well with safe water and sanitation. Having electricity and lights after dark will open up new horizons for learning. Not having to walk 3 or more kilometers daily to collect water will provide more time for mothers and children to engage in productive activities., and of course eliminating water borne disease that kills 1 in 5 children before age 5 speaks for itself.

The other components of our plan involves creating larger dome structures for hydroponics and aquaponics for year round, more efficient production of food. That will help alleviate the problem of adequate nutrition which leads to stunting in many areas, and selling excess production will lead to elevated levels of prosperity for the people. Jobs will be created in production, storage, distribution and marketing the products, as well as administration and finance. Obviously, the roads and infrastructure must also be developed in order to get food to market efficiently. With subsistence farming, roughly 1/3rd of the food output goes to waste.

All that said, nothing will happen without capital and/or workable financing. To that end we envision ultimately creating a large equity fund with OPIC to support local banks and institutions who will make retail financing available to the people on terms that make home and business ownership a reality. If a person only makes $250 a month, house payments might have to be limited to $75 a month. That is difficult if the only source of financing is local at 18 to 25% per annum. By lowering the cost of the house, and blending lower interest money from the US or other sources, and provide a means of repayment with enhanced agriculture output, we can make home ownership a reality and help elevate people out of poverty. To the extent possible, we envision using Ex-Im Bank for products and services from the US which will require an Irrevocable Confirmed Letter of Credit from an acceptable bank. For public sector projects, a sovereign guaranty from the government will be required along with an Irrevocable Letter of Credit.

Collaboration With Universities

Another goal of the program is to create a model Trade and Training center in Sacramento so people from Africa and around the world can come here to see the products and concept first hand, and discuss how we can help arrange project financing and provide project managers and supervisors to train people in their locale on all aspects of the program. We hope to expand on an existing relationship between UC Davis and U of Arizona with Universities in Africa for faculty and student exchange programs. Both schools are leaders in agriculture studies.

Financing Institutions With Programs That Can Help

While grants are occasionally possible to a limited degree, all of the following entities expect repayment, so bank or government guarantees are essential. Applications are a laborious process, and normally require a retainer for time and expense on the part of a broker.

US Export-Import Bank ( provide guarantees for financing for US goods and services for short, medium and in some cases long term financing. Currently Sierra Leone is only cleared for short term credit, however with a guaranty from Shelter Afrique, possibly NASSIT, medium and long term financing is a possibility. To address the immediate needs for housing, Ex-Im is perhaps the best solution for products and services are supplied from the U.S. and could make low cost financing a possibility. The normal terms call for 15% down payment; 30% of the total amount can be used for local content. If, for example, we contracted to build, own and transfer 50m2 (2bedroom 1 bath) Ecoshells for $20,000, it would require $3,000 down payment, which Steelheart could carry if secured properly. $3,000 per unit could be used for local materials (i.e. cement) and labor. If 7 year terms were obtained, repayment would start after the draw down period and the interest rate would probably range from 5 to 6% including fees. These are rough figures only to provide guidance, and subject to change. It all starts with a feasibility study and MOU.

OPIC – Overseas Private Investment Corporation. ( OPIC helps mobilize private capital to fund projects throughout the world. For projects and properties not exported from the U.S. they help create equity funds in conjunction with private capital to help keep interest rates low and can provide repayment guarantees. One condition for an Equity Fund is that it must be 51% US owned. For longer term development an Equity fund is probably the answer to development of safe housing, water, sanitation, power and food security on terms that could make home ownership a reality for low income people.

USTDA – United States Trade and Development Agency ( Links US businesses to global infrastructure development, with a focus on environmentally clean power.

FEED THE FUTURE – ( Deeply involved in fighting hunger and poverty, improving agriculture output through improved technologies, advancing women’s role in agriculture, et al. An example of how they have helped one woman in Northern Uganda is attached.

USAID – US Agency For International Development ( USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential. Grants are a possibility, but take time.

AFDB – African Development Bank ( Dedicated to ag development.

THE WORLD BANK ( A source of financing, often on a grander scale to governments.

To pursue any and all, it requires some money to cover the up front costs for time and expenses.

The African Agricultural Capital Fund

Bobby NeptuneA farm in Northern Uganda that benefited from a mix of equity and debt from AACF is now providing high quality seeds to more than 5,000 smallholder farmers, such as this woman.

In 2011, USAID, together with six partners, announced a first-of-its-kind effort to invest $25 million in the African Agricultural Capital Fund (AACF) which will deliver much needed growth capital to boost the productivity and profitability of Africa’s undercapitalized agriculture sector.

Over the next five years, Pearl Capital Partners, a specialized African agricultural investment fund manager based in Kampala, Uganda, will invest the AACF’s $25 million in at least 20 agriculture-related businesses in East Africa. The investment infuses equity and expertise into a sector that has suffered from under-investment, and paves the way for raising the productivity and incomes of at least a quarter of a million households.

In order to attract investors to East Africa’s fledgling but increasingly profitable agribusinesses, USAID’s Development Credit Authority guaranteed 50 percent of an $8 million commercial loan from J.P. Morgan’s Social Finance Unit to AACF. The fund is also supported by $17 million in equity investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The fund will also have access to $1.5 million in USAID-funded business development services, primarily funded under President Obama’s flagship Feed the Future initiative, to improve investee companies’ operations, competitiveness, and access to markets.