A new factory in Uganda promises to help provide small farmers with seeds for more than 55 crops, including vegetables as well as groundnuts, soybeans, maize, rice and other grains. The new privately owned plant comes as the government is encouraging business to play a larger role in the production, processing and marketing of seeds and fertilizers. Voice of America English to Africa Service?s Machrine Birungi in Kampala reports.

Agriculture is the backbone of Uganda?s economy, but efforts to improve it have been slow. 

The owner of the new factory, Josephine Okot, is one of Uganda?s best-known businesswomen. It?s part of her 3 year old company, Victoria Seeds.

The new million-dollar plant is located in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu. It will specialize in seed research, production and marketing. The undertaking is expected to help a quarter of the country?s small farmers, who need timely access to high quality seeds. 

It will also package, certify and distribute the new seeds for sale, mainly to women farmers.

She says, ?The production base of this seed plant will be located in the northern region districts like Amuru and Oyam so the production will be done by farmers there and definitely it will be a way of generating wealth to them because they have an assured market. These are really high quality seeds that are four times as productive as their own home saved seeds.?

Okot calls herself a crop scientist and entrepreneur trying to help disadvantaged farmers by getting them new technologies. Many of the farmers are women who toil long hours in the field. She believes that if women are the key to food security, it?s important to give them better production and marketing skills.

Many of the women Okot hopes to reach, work under extremely difficult circumstances.

She says, ?When women come out of conflict, they are faced with more challenges because during conflict all the burden is left to them. In most cases they take care of their families, the sick, the orphans. So once they are empowered, it?s easier for that society to cope up with the traumatic effects of war. So definitely having a seed enterprise here will give them an opportunity to become producers contracted to supply seeds for the company, they will have a [guaranteed] market and get production skills. We want them to have productive assets because women all over Africa till the land but the land belongs first to their father, the brother and then their husbands.?

Okot is the winner of the 2007 Yara Prize, which recognizes exceptional efforts to reduce hunger and poverty in Africa. The Board of the Yara Foundation describes her as an outstanding example of the new generation of African entrepreneurs -- they are willing to take the lead and break new ground in African agriculture.

The Yara Foundation web page says Victoria Seeds is a dependable seed house that exports throughout East Africa. It notes Okot?s extensive experience in agribusiness and the seed sector, especially her role in the harmonization of seed policies and laws in the region.

Okot says her passion for agriculture can be traced back to her childhood ambitions as she grew up in the war-torn district of Gulu.

?I grew up in northern Uganda-Gulu and I observed even back then that up to 77 percent of our small holder farmers were women engaged in food production, while the men were involved in livestock and cash crops. So I noticed that the women were generally disadvantaged. They produce the bulk of the food crops and yet had very limited access to production assets like credit, education and even inputs. And, they do not have any kind of mechanization and do not have land, and so I was motivated to make a difference in their lives.?

Okot says that as a champion of a green revolution in Africa, she wants to inspire more women to become successful agri-business entrepreneurs.