Dr Alex Ariho, an agriprenuer, says value addition improves a farmer’s earnings by over 40%. However, in Uganda, majority of farmers sell their produce raw.
Balyejjusa stopped whining and started a winery…..
“Like most of the young people in Uganda, I was so angry and blaming others for my poverty and whenever I would see a nice car passing by, I would get enraged and feel like picking stone to hit it thinking those are people who have stolen everything from us,” he says.
That is how Steven Balyejjusa, the director of Mercy Organic Foods Enterprises at Mityana thought some years ago.
“At that time, I was operating a shop as well as practicing urban horticulture back yard farming, growing watermelons, pumpkins, onions and carrots, but the business wasn’t doing well. I felt helpless as I was working yet I was gaining nothing,” he says.
In 2017, one of his regular customers called him saying that there is an organic agricultural training institute called Rural Community in Development (RUCID), looking for people like him who are passionate about agribusiness.
“I thought this was a good idea because I had realised that people had fallen in love with the fruits I used to grow. Also I was thinking of adding value to the fruits to make more money from them, but I didn’t have any idea on how to start,” he says.
As he was contemplating how he would manage the funding of the four months’ certificate residential training, he was told that AVIS/SKY the NGO under the Netherlands Embassy in Uganda was funding the training in food processing and value addition.
“This was a great opportunity that I grabbed with both hands. It was a residential training every week; we were doing a new product. From that training, I do a lot ranging from jams from different fruits, wines, bakery using fruits, chill, tomato sauce, among others,” he says.
He explains that, during the training, they were advised to take on a few enterprises and specialize. “I decided to take on wine processing and bee keeping,” he says.
After the training, he talked to the RUCID’s director Samuel Nyanzi seeking to be allowed to set up his enterprise at the college to continue with the mentorship which he accepted. This was the birth of “Mercy Organic Foods Enterprises,” he says.
Whereas RUCID was a food processing centre, there were other people making juice and jam from various fruits. While making jam and juice, they had to peel the pineapples. He asked the director to use the peelings to prepare pineapple ginger juice (Munaanaansi), preserved organically, professionally made and packaged in glass bottles.
“I was supplying to people for weddings, parties and conferences, among others because people have changed from the drinking soda to juices from fruits which is healthier,” he says.
Don’t wait for equipment
Before getting equipment, you can start making juice or wine. During the training, we were equipped with skills to make wines without machinery.
“Here after getting the fruits, we wash then clean and peel them. After, squeeze them with your hands and if need be, you can use a pounding motor. We use food grade nets used to squeeze the juices out then use a muslin sterilized cloth and get a very nice organically product either wine or juices,” he says.
“I still use the college`s machinery especially when I have a big consignment to make. However, I am soon setting up my own processing unit,” he says.