Solhjulet has established a close partnership with its key suppliers in Uganda, creating an understanding of organic farming across cultural divides.
Solhjulet imports and sells a wide range of biodynamic and organic food products from producers all over the world. The company has 55 employees and its head office is located in Bjerringbro, Denmark. For Solhjulet, organic farming is at the heart of its business philosophy, so that its Code of Conduct is based on the organic certification schemes.
Since 2003, Solhjulet has worked with African Organic in Uganda on the basis of a B2B programme funded by Danida. Over the years, African Organic’s headquarters, "Kyampisi", have been the hub for Solhjulet’s Ugandan activities and the testing ground for new crops and ideas. Farmers from the 150 affiliated farms, many of whom are organised into small groups or cooperatives, receive training and participate in workshops.
Information on the cooperation with African Organic is used actively to market Solhjulet's products, and customers are very pleased with this information, which they can pass on to their own customers.
Cooperation resulting from good chemistry
If Solhjulet had taken a rational approach to collaboration with suppliers, it would probably never have selected a country like Uganda. The country has no sea port facilities, and is neither a traditional exporter nor a processor of raw materials. In fact, it was the excellent relationship between African Organic and Solhjulet at a network meeting in connection with a series of B2B programmes that paved the way for their cooperation. Solhjulet knew that sound dialogue would be needed to achieve the objective of developing new products and thereby achieving a larger, more competitively priced product range in a new continent.
Daily contact and many visits
It is one thing to provide training in organic farming methods, but quite another to get suppliers to understand the principles of the organic farming philosophy. Solhjulet has learned the importance of involving employees at all levels and of being available to follow up on training on a sound basis. Solhjulet has therefore opted for shorter, more frequent supplier visits. In particular, these frequent visits have been important in investigating how the company can use the fruit that is not immediately suitable for export. Among other things, this has resulted in a fruit pulp project, with Thise Dairy as the customer. The visits are also important to ensuring respect for existing cultural conditions and nature itself, and a prerequisite for successful, long-term cooperation.
The weekly supply of products from Uganda, as well as the day-to-day contact combined with the many visits, have reduced the distance between Uganda and Denmark. In addition, Solhjulet has organised several visits to its facilities in Denmark, so that Ugandan staff at different levels can witness first-hand the Danish approach to organic food production.
Farmers are trained in organic farming techniques, including handling products for export that meet the requirements made in Europe. The company also trains the farmers to produce their own organic seeds in order to reduce dependency on organic seeds from Europe in the long term.
Solhjulet also trains employees in the prevention of disease, and has established a childcare and cookery programme. The childcare scheme enables the women to take proper paid work, and many women now hold managerial positions.
Whenever training is given, employees are encouraged to pass on what they have learned to their families, friends and neighbours, so that this knowledge spreads like ripples in water among the local population. Motivated, healthy and competent employees make sound business sense, whether you are in Denmark or Uganda. A local area that, slowly but surely, is raising its standards creates major development opportunities in the region for Solhjulet.