Cultural and economic hardships faced by both young rural women and the girl child in Sironko District propelled Sandra Nakayenze to start Kalaa Mugoosi Women Empowerment Limited. Ms Nakayenze who participated in Daily Monitor’s ‘Rising Woman’, initiative, emerged third. She tells Eronie Kamukama about her growth plans
Ms Sandra Nakayenze recorded a major loss in her first business, when she ventured into trading in beans and maize after university. She lost savings worth Shs2m to a relative who sold off her produce without her knowledge. She did not give up because she longed to be an entrepreneur. She found a job at Uchumi supermarket. While she earned Shs280,000 per month as a cashier, she saved Shs700,000.
Her next job as an enrollment officer under National Identification Registration Authority (NIRA) in Bulambuli District brought to mind an old business idea. In villages, coffee farmers lacked nearby markets for their produce. There was also another issue – Girl children walked long distances to school.
Plus, for most of her life in Busiita, Sironko District where she was raised, Ms Nakayenze had seen women and girls live through domestic violence, early marriages and poverty. She swore to herself things would change as long as she lived.
She had not found reason to leave Sironko until she was to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Education at Kyambogo University in 2010. She graduated and taught for a few months but that was never her calling, she says.
Empowering Girl child
“I realised there were so many challenges faced by the girl child and just being in a classroom teaching would not expose me. I needed a ground where I would fight for the women so I came up with ‘Kalaa Mugosi,’ which means breaking the ropes in Lugisu, to stop all the abuse and focus on empowering girl children,” Ms Nakayenze says.
For the start, the 22-year-old then, named it Kalaa Mugosi cooperative society until she realised she was ignorant about legalising such an entity.
“I went to the district to register, but being a young girl at that time, people did not believe me, they thought I was looking for youth funds,” she recalls.
Frustration from failure to register what she calls a business kicked in and so did being cash-strapped. She had savings worth Shs1.4m and with five women, they wrote a Constitution that set up Kalaa Mugosi Women Empowerment Limited, to put unprivileged women in charge of economic prosperity.
Coffee, a major cash crop where she grew up, was placed at the centre of the business. But the cash burden was too heavy to bear.
“I went to Great Lakes Coffee Company and sold my idea to them. I needed money to buy coffee. I had the coffee farmers, we had the coffee, they had the money and needed coffee from us,” she explains.
By then, the group had grown to 33 women. There were fears she was too young and would not only manage Great Lakes’ funds but also supply the container of coffee needed. She promised she would produce a product that would sell her brand.
She also tried to register the business but got no help from the district.
In 2015, once Great Lakes gave its nod despite the business’ informality, she sold 42 metric tonnes of coffee.
“We made about Shs12m but I found challenges being a woman. Coffee is known as a business for men, people despised and asked whether I would manage. My stronghold was that I was learned,” she says.
She also had funding. “They gave me Shs5m, the first time. When we totaled the coffee we supplied, it accumulated to about Shs600m,” she explains.
One thing was clear right away: the coffee was of good quality. For this, she earned a shilling off every kilogramme and still bore all costs such as transport.
Fast forward to 2018, the business is going strong with Shs43m in profits last year. A kilogramme of coffee costs about Shs6,000. So far, over 700 tonnes of coffee have been sold since 2015 with Bulambuli, Sironko and Kapchorwa Districts as her main sources.
The key to Kalaa Mugosi’s success is two-fold.
“We have survived because of commitment to the business but also being present in the business. In a new business, you do not delegate because people have different visions,” she says.
She finally registered the business this year. Ms Nakayenze is now a rising woman in business. In fact, Daily Monitor and dfcu bank recently awarded Kalaa Mugosi in a business proposal writing challenge where it emerged third.
Ms Nakayenze says it has been years of mending a broken relationship between farmers and their coffee to improve the quality of coffee.
“They do not care for the coffee, do not put fertilisers but want to pick so production was low. A coffee tree should give two kilos but someone gets 500 grammes,” she explains.
Kalaa Mugosi has introduced training coffee farmers in best agricultural practices, growing coffee for business and farm inspections. Farmers can also access small amounts of credit. The company now re-invests its profits.
“A farmer takes a second payment to keep for you coffee in the next season,” she says. But transporting coffee on bad roads and drying it in the rainy season remain big problems. Taxes also eat into her profits.
Kalaa Mugosi has put up a Shs32m collection centre that can hold 6,000 tonnes of coffee and installed 50 coffee drying beds and five machines that pulp 1,000 kilogrammes of coffee per hour. This has reduced the 27 kilometres women moved to find a pulping machine.
Easing financial access
It has set up a village savings group such that women have access to finance.
“We have secured Shs3m. there are those who cannot go to the bank, do not have security or do not have self-esteem,” she says about unbanked women.
The company has not missed the technological wave. It uses an application to register farmers to trace the origin of their coffee and keep communication lines open.
On her ‘to do things’ also, is processing soap, briquettes, flour, perfume and fertilisers from coffee.
Her hope is that domestic consumption of coffee and its products can grow, just like that for tea.
“The bigger picture is to be worth Shs250m in five years. We also want to run a microfinance for women,” she says.
Kalaa Mugosi now has eyes on specialty coffee.
“It is very high quality coffee that fetches a very high price. It has the capacity to beat poor quality coffee with a difference of Shs3,000,” she says.
“It will expose the women to networking as it attracts direct trade. We will have contributed to exports because most coffee here doesn’t reach specialty coffee standards. We also want to introduce ‘natural coffee’ where we pick, wash, ferment and dry so it tastes stronger. ‘We want to try many things until we find out what the market wants,” she says.