AGRI-PRENEURS. The women have caught on the new requirement and jumped on trend, taking up agricultural entrepreneurship
Ugandans, like elsewhere in the world, are realising the need to add value to produce such as milk through food processing in order to earn more from agriculture.
In a bid to encourage gender inclusiveness for both men and women, the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) is, according to Julian Mwesigye Kajuma, empowering and training women to be their own entrepreneurs through adding value to the available agricultural resources.
These women entrepreneurs represent the spectrum of micro to high growth business, from supporting life to creating wealth. Some local women doing businesses have been struggling but have had no platform to develop their own enterprises, which has led to stagnation. Others never live to celebrate their first anniversary in the business sector.
UIRI has trained various women to become innovators and entrepreneurs until a stage where the business is at a level of independency for its own machinery, procurement, staffing and marketing.
“We train all people but we chose the women in particular because of their contribution towards agriculture as well as value addition. The women are more trustworthy and their rate of defaulting when given a back loan is very minimal compared to the men,” says Kajuma.
How to join
To join the training programme requires creating a business entreprise, fully registered and certified, before you can apply to the institute. If an application is successful, the enterprise owner is trained, his product undergoes research, market testing and refining until it is accepted on the market.
“We identify what category the idea falls and decide whether it is going to close a gap in the industry, then we can offer free training. The incubation period of businesses (the time until the enterprise is self-sustaining) differs depending on the nature of the enterprise,” Kajuma explains.
With this kind of support, the level of unemployment in Uganda is reduced, the tax base is widened and agricultural production stimulated. However, even with this support, there is still the challenge of a few women embracing technology. The government policies that would support women empowerment in this area are still weak with minimal motivation.
Aleng rears rabbits
Blessed Grace Aleng hails from Nebbi. She started Vert Fields, a community-based and youth-led project for rearing rabbits. Started in 2014 after she completed Senior Six, Aleng’s aim was to help women graduate from poverty to self-empowerment. She fulfilled this by starting with distribution of two rabbits to every household that was interested and now many of these have given birth to more rabbits from which these households have been able to educate their children as well as have savings.
She has also trained the women to use the wastes from the rabbits as manure and pesticides for the vegetables such as cabbage, onions and tomatoes in their eco gardens to help them in the feeding.
She started the business with Shs380,000 which she had saved during her high school vacation. Today, after the UIRI training, she is able to add value to the rabbit’s meat by making products such as rabbit sausages and burgers, which they supply to supermarkets such as Capital Shoppers, Mega Standard, Imperial Royale and Serena hotels.
She is, however, challenged with the distance as they have to move the rabbits from Nebbi to Kampala where the value addition can take place. She hopes to have a one-stop place to act as a breeding, farming and meat, skin and manure processing centre in Nebbi.
Betty Kasiriri Businge, a resident of Kamuli village in Kira is the mind behind Mama Kashera. Bushera, a popular local beverage among Western Ugandans made from millet flour. The mother of four started making the local beverage seven years ago to provide for her family when her husband got injured in an accident. With the drink, she was able to feed and support the family while she nursed her husband’s wounds.
It was not hard for her to start since her mother had taught her how to make the drink. “I grew up seeing my mother making bushera,” she says.
For all the times she made bushera before going to the research institute, she would make losses because it would ferment when it remained unsold overnight. “Cold rainy days were terrible for me because I made huge losses,” says Businge. “When the bushera remained, it would ferment and I would pour it. I was only able to overcome this when a friend told me about UIRI. I was then taught about preservation and now it can stay for six months without fermenting.”
After the training, she used capital of Shs100,000 to start with support from her husband Jacob Busingye and their children and by February 17, 2016, they had a revamped start and now they have three workers to help in the packaging.
Businge is able to earn as much as Shs1.5m a month and on a good day, she distributes 40 dozen litres of the bushera. She supplies to schools nearby, local shops and supermarkets close by.
Her bushera has passed the required quality tests of the research institute and is almost getting an S mark from Uganda National Bureau of Standards. She is, however, limited to the area of coverage since she has no means of transport to carry the bushera to other places.
Ntende the mushroom expert
Jennifer Ntende is the research officer and head Mushroom Technology Section at UIRI. She is one of the instructors in mushroom growing. In Uganda, only Oyster mushrooms were being grown while the other types were being imported. Ntende has invested into research to ensure that other types of mushrooms are grown in Uganda. She has ventured into Shiitake, Bisporus Agaricus which is re-known for curing cancer and hypertension. She is the mind behind the new mushroom species that are being grown in Uganda.
“Mushrooms are very healthy foods that can be eaten by both young and old. They have anti-oxidants and some species are known to cure cancer. We are soon starting to grow the mushrooms to fit into the cosmetic industry because the mushrooms have been proved to have an anti-aging component.”
Over 1000 people including women, youth and disabled groups have been trained how to cultivate oyster. This has helped many to get jobs, create jobs for others and has increased their life style because they can now generate income and sustain their families.
“We have gone further now doing research on domestication of the most valuable species of mushrooms commercially cultivated outside Uganda and having a relatively good global market position, like Button mushrooms, Ganoderma Lucidum mushrooms for cancer, Paddy straw mushroom and Shiitake mushrooms. For all the four varieties, suitable substrate formulations have been developed and now we are scaling up the production. After we will soon be able to train the local community on the proper cultivation procedures so that we as Ugandan can be able to compete in the food global market,” Ntende says.
As an instructor, Ntende has found that the standard of the spawns is very low because there are many junk spawns in the country. She advises mushroom growers to mind about the quality of the spawns, go for more training and form cooperative unions to have a collective bargaining power than when they sell as individuals.
She further advises, “The higher the hygiene of the mushrooms, the better their quality and therefore high sales and to ensure this hygiene, the mushrooms must be dried under a shade and not direct sunlight because this changes their colour from white to brownish.”
Vashtah Kaanyorobe, 58, is a mother of four whose last born is pursuing a Master’s degree at Makerere University. She is the director of Vash-Kan Investments, a confectionery enterprise. She bakes ceremonial cakes, cookies and ‘daddies’ (small doughnuts).
She used to bake cakes casually in a saucepan using charcoal. “I had mastered the skill from a friend. When another friend tasted the cakes I made, she was so impressed she recommended me to come to Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI),” recounts Kaanyorobe.
At the UIRI, she acquired entrepreneurship skills that have enabled her to earn a living. “I received free training from the institute and now I do not have to wait for my children to give me money. I’m able to provide myself with whatever I need. This work has also helped me remain fit.”
She started with two kilogrammes of flour in 2013 and since she did not have the machinery, she was allowed to use the machines at the institute while she paid utility bills such as water and electricity. “When I came to the institute, I only knew how to bake simple cakes and did not have capital. I started with only two kilogrammes but I had learnt how to make burns, ‘daddies’, cookies and many others. Now I only buy ingredients and the rest of the machinery is for the institute,” says Kaanyorobe.
Kaanyorobe supplies her bakery products to supermarkets in Kisaasi and Bukoto near where she resides. Her cakes cost from Shs30,000 to Shs3m depending on the size and flavours preferred by the client. In two years, she thinks she will have acquired her own machinery and that her business will be self-sustaining.