Last year, Mossier sent four University of Minnesota students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs to Uganda to visit and report on the progress of one of Mossier’s core projects: the Lavender Acres pig farm.
Lavender Acres, a transgender-led and operated pig farm designed to develop Ugandan trans individuals’ economic wellbeing and financial literacy, is the brainchild of Shawn Mugisha, a prominent LGBT activist in Uganda. Shawn gained attention from media and from the UN in recent years for his denouncement of Uganda’s appalling “kill the gays” bill in 2014, a law that proposed life in prison and even the death penalty for LGBT individuals and which very nearly passed. Since then, LGBT rights in Uganda have hardly improved, a fact that Shawn has worked hard to change.
Enter Lavender Acres, a project designed to advance Ugandan trans individuals’ safety, security, and wellbeing. One of the biggest threats to LGBT wellbeing in Uganda, especially for trans men and women, is financial insecurity and unemployment, which Shawn says are “in many cases the greatest factors that expose transgender persons to human rights violations, security threats and attacks and destitution.” He aims to address this issue by employing trans individuals at Lavender Acres as well as giving them a safe place to stay and providing educational training on financial literacy, saving and investment skills, and personal finance management.
Shawn hopes that that training, combined with firsthand experience running, maintaining, and managing the pig farm, will give them the leg up they need to find employment and be able to support themselves independently after they leave Lavender Acres. The farm itself will have the capacity to raise 100 pigs as well as cultivate maize, sweet potato and soybean crops to use as pig feed. Growing their own feed allows Lavender Acres to save money on store-bought pig feed, as well as supplement the farm’s income by selling surplus crops in town.
Logistically, Lavender Acres has hit the ground running, combining Shawn’s project managing experience and problem-solving aptitude with Mossier’s financial support to begin the project on a strong foundation. Shawn and his employees began by attending trainings where they “got the theory knowledge of how to start the piggery, covering the best practices and latest technologies housing, choosing piglets, biosecurity, feeding, and hygiene.” They spent three days studying and gaining experience at a farm in Wakiso, and will spend another week training at another nationally-renowned pig farm, also in Wakiso.
Physical construction of the farm is well underway, with four employment slots already reserved at the farm. Employees are slated to move into the recently finished accommodations and begin work as soon as final construction finishes up and the animals are stalked. All told, Shawn expects to have the entire project functioning and ready to go within six months.
The project has a budget of just over $22,000 and so far has managed to stay within budget despite logistical challenges and barriers. Access to water, the closest source of which is about two kilometers away, initially presented an issue, with piping to the site estimated to cost nearly $50,000 and drilling of a new well deemed impossible. Shawn’s solution was to use large water tanks onsite, which are fillable in large quantities and can also collect rainwater.
Offering employment, housing, and even education, it’s clear that Lavender Acres will act as far more than a simple pig farm. The project will effectively serve as a multifaceted human rights compound, a haven for transgender individuals’ financial development, social advancement, and wellbeing. The employment and education training will provide skills and experience necessary for them to become empowered, independent, and contributing members of their communities, essential factors to protecting trans people’s securities and futures. But perhaps even more important, the farm will provide living accommodations that are physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe for trans people. For the first time in many of their lives, these individuals will experience acceptance, security, community, and love.