Dr Paul Stephen Gitta
I was once lured into buying “local chicken” eggs on the Kabale-Mbarara Road at double the price of similar quantities of exotic breed chicken eggs in Kampala. I was told that the eggs of local free range birds are tastier.
They were securely wrapped in layers of dry banana fibres (leaves) majorly for safety during transportation. This wrapping technique has been passed down for many generations with no significant modification.
The irony was that I could not prove that there were eggs in there without damaging the whole package. I was relieved later to find everything I paid for intact.
But I kept wondering why no one had introduced a secure packaging solution using cheap and readily available material that also enables us to verify that these indeed are local bird eggs.
My next stop would be another roadside market eager to buy some fresh honey. I found honey packed in all sorts of used bottles, many retaining the brands of their previous contents.
To be fair, it looked more like a misplaced bar counter. It reminded me of the biblical scripture that discouraged packaging of new wine in old wine skins.
To their credit, the egg and honey sellers succeeded in adding some value to their products by packaging them, but could have earned more had they used better quality packaging material. Better packaged and branded honey of similar quantity costs much more in Kampala’s supermarkets.
Usually this price difference is due to the value added through packaging and better marketing.
It is also important to note that none of the roadside items described above would qualify for shelf space in these supermarkets. But who knows, maybe as happens elsewhere, many more Ugandans will, for convenience, opt to buy from supermarkets or such settings in future.
The earlier producers get used to the idea of packaging and better product presentation, the better for them. Packaging is an investment worth making because the benefits are worth the effort.
The other option is to leave the task of packaging to a middleman, but you will have delegated the earnings as well. If individual farmers are not able to afford it, a group of farmers can attract technical and financial assistance to package and market their products.
Returning to the story; the eggs tasted good, but I could not make more orders or refer more clients to this farmer or producer, because the package did not have any product or producer information on it. So what the farmers simply did was to sell but not market their products.
A package without product information is like a high yielding plant that cannot bear seed and, therefore, cannot produce more of its kind.
When packaging products, ensure that the package says everything you would have wanted the buyer to know about you and your product.
Apart from helping the farmer or producer in accessing better markets, packaging of products could also help to protect them during transportation, protect them from damage, thereby keeping them in the desirable condition.
Packaging can also help to increase the life of the product. Today we are witnessing a flood of mangoes on the domestic market with accompanying post-harvest losses to farmers yet a month from now the prices will shoot up again due to scarcity.
Other than waste them now or sell them cheaply, the right packaging can help to preserve and increase the shelf life of these mangoes so we can have them fresh or processed in future when the prices are good.
There are various materials available for use today in packaging of food and agricultural products and these include; paper, steel, plastic, glass, aluminium, and a mixture of these or other materials.
Fortunately, there are many companies in Uganda and the region that specialise in producing packaging material so access may not be very big problem. Factors to consider when choosing the packaging material may include availability, cost, use and the effect on the environment.
The environment is an important consideration because you do not want to use materials that cannot be easily bio degraded or recycled. In any case, farmers should be the most sensitive to environmental issues because their livelihoods depend on it.
The materials used should, however, also comply with the established standards on food packaging and labelling. You can consult with the Uganda National Bureau of standards and the Ministry of Agriculture on this. Packaging for the domestic and export markets may also differ in some ways as it differs for individual products.