Wednesday September 3 2014

Small-scale businesses are the way to prosperity

By James Wire Lunghabo

As a participant in the recent Uganda Small Scale Industries Association (USSIA) exhibition held 14-17 August, in Kampala, I was awed by various businesses and products.

Stalls displaying wine, chocolate, leather products, medicines, processed foods, energy-saving products, among others, were all over the place. If you ever thought Ugandans had resigned to consuming only imported products, you are definitely wrong. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are vibrant and only getting better and more grounded.

Improve products
The agricultural sector seems to have a lion share of the SME businesse, which is no surprise considering that ours is a largely agro based economy. Agro processing and value addition has been spoken about in various fora and judging by the number of companies that participated in this exhibition, the message is sinking in. Local entrepreneurs are taking the bull by the horns to confront the need to improve on our agro products.

I have highlighted some of the interesting agro or agro-related exhibitors that attracted public attention. Their efforts are being rewarded by the growing interest of the local market in local products. The Buy Uganda brand is slowly taking precedence in some industries and agriculture is one of them.

Pragmatic and fulfilling
One noticeable common factor was the passion each business owner had for their product. Talking to some of them, I realised that they were actually commercialising skills that they had acquired out of the traditional school system. As a business professional and entrepreneur, I found myself easily relating with many of them.

While the corporate world largely confines us to practice what we studied in order to earn a living and impact the world, these small scale entrepreneurs tend to follow their hearts and gravitate towards their environmental experiences. I find the latter a more pragmatic and fulfilling approach towards creating long-lasting solutions to the need for economic empowerment of citizens.

Another good show
Following the success of this event, it is now prudent upon the authorities in government not to let down their guard in terms of promoting SMEs. Various issues were noted by a number of participating SMEs that need attention. Top among them includes the planned taxes on agricultural inputs and product packaging which is currently poor as a result of inability by local packaging suppliers to step up despite the protection they enjoy. All eyes are now set on the upcoming Uganda Manufacturing Association trade fair this October where the SMEs under USSIA plan to put up another good show.

There was this woman-founded company that promotes tumeric growing, processing and consumption. She stumbled across turmeric while trying to address a health issue for one of her children. She has in the process uncovered a lot of benefits that accrue out of the use of this product and carries out various road shows in the country to spread the word about its benefits. The company processes turmeric and plans to venture into overall nutritional solutions.

Homemade Chocolate
A family-run business founded by a cocoa growing family that was tired of seeing the raw product being sold to exporters at measly rates. They pride in being the first chocolate manufacturers in Uganda as well as having the largest single cocoa farm in Africa based in Kayunga District. The reviews of their chocolate products were great from those that tasted. This is a sure sign of the progress so far made by the Ugandan food processing industry.

Leather Products
Run by youth who initially raised capital from fishing. Use processed hide to make various leather products like belts, shoes, sandals, bags and wallets. The quality is impressive and apart from the need for extra finesse in the finishing, the products can out compete their imported counterparts in durability.

One of the premier small fish processing companies, they have specialised in the processing of Silver Cyprinid Fish (mukene). Various show goers were impressed not only by the world-class packaging and quality of their flagship product, Super Mukene. What they have done with this is another testimony to how far food processing in the SME sector has come.

Organic Wine
A winery that uses jack fruit as the raw material. There has been remarkable progress made and the evidence is in tasting it. If her wine bottles are to stand side by side with global brands, one could hardly tell its from a Ugandan SME. Thats how much progress has been made in the short span of operation.

The author is an ICT and agro entrepreneur. E-mail: