School dropout engaging youth in value addition

Monday August 26 2019

Geoffrey Muyengera (L) joins his colleagu

Geoffrey Muyengera (L) joins his colleague to fix a walking tractor at his workshop. PHOTO BY EDGAR R. BATTE 

By Edgar R. Batte

It is a busy and noisy environment. Men panelling metals, wielding and trying out machines. It is a usual day at Munyegera Agro Machinery Limited. Its director moves from one working point to another.

Unassuming, Geoffrey Munyegera, has his hands and attire murky, playing a supervisory role as well as offering a hand when needed.
Some of the finished machines, line a compound adjacent to the main workshop, serving as a display area.

Three men put efforts together to lift and place a machine on a double cabin pick-up truck. Munyegera advises them on handling before settling to share his journey.

Machinery
Munyegera makes agricultural machinery that assists farmers to address post-harvest handling losses and add value to their produce. His machinery profile includes shelling, threshing, hulling and pulping machines for maize, beans, soya beans, groundnut, chia and coffee.

He also makes maize and cassava driers and millers as well as cleaning and sorting machines for coffee, maize and chia.

Munyegera is a Senior Three dropout who could not pursue education further after his parents passed on in 2000.
His father was a fabricator with experience in metallic wielding. As he went about his work, Munyegera was keen to learn, picking a survival skill that came in handy later on in life.

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Starting
He started out as a wielder, making local stoves and doors. Later on, he considered making small tools, targeting maize farmers in Mayuge District, as one of the biggest maize farming area in eastern Uganda.

At the time, farmers echoed the challenge of shelling their maize. A one Saul imported a shelling machine and tractor from Kenya to provide a solution to the challenge.

When the machine broke down, Munyegera was called to fix it. In fixing it, he studied its hardware and used this knowledge to start building another. He tested it and it worked.

He kept on improving on it using the feedback from farmers. “First, it required a farmer to pull and push, so I improvised for it to have tyres. The engine power could not propel it uphill, so I improved by buying quality engines from China North company,” he further recollects.
That was in 2006. He would buy scrap from those that dealt in waste metals as well as refined iron from Indian companies.

Training
Sasakawa Africa Association, a non-government organisation (NGO) that deals with farmers, got to know of Munyegera’s efforts. His initiative was something that could further be improved.

“Sasakawa sponsored me to undergo training in production of quality machines at Busitema University. This helped me further my knowledge in metallic and motorised work since all I initially knew was jua kali (experience on job). At Busitema, the trainer emphasises the need to do quality clean and precise work.”

The fabricator’s attention is on building quality agricultural machinery over the distraction of focusing on profits alone.
“I felt satisfied every time I a good machine. I was lucky to deliver good work. Every time I need working capital, farmers are happy to advance money on a machine they would like me to make for them, which keeps the business going,” the 35-year-old explains.

Employment
He employs some 20 people in the different sections mainly young people.

There are machines he has made and because they are not anywhere on the market, he has had to come up with names, for example mobile maize sheller, the pulling maize sheller, the peddle cassava chipper and grain cleaner.

His work has caught the eyes of different development partners linked to farmers and the other agricultural value chain actors. He works and gains collaborative support from these.

Turning point
Sasakawa, for example, thanks to its mission of uplifting metal fabricators involved in improving agriculture, linked him to USAID-funded Uganda Commodity Production Marketing Activity (CPM), under the ‘Feed the future’ project, a programme Munyegera credits for enabling him acquire land on which his machinery workshop is situated.

“For every machine a farmer bought, CPM would buy an extra one for them or if they couldn’t raise money to buy a machine, they offered to foot the other half. This was mainly for the maize shellers, which go for Shs6.5m. I was able to exhibit my machines in different regions of the country, with full support of CPM. And they would encourage interested buyers to wire the money to my bank account, which taught me financial handling and discipline,” he narrates.

The programme further cemented his collaboration with Sasakawa, Kilimo Trust through the Regional East African Community Trade in Staples Project (REACTS-II) funded by AGRA.

REACTS-II is now partnering with Munyegera to create demand for these technologies and training machine operators on repair and maintenance to minimise breakdowns.
Other partners include Agroways, World Food Programme (WFP) and a number of Area Cooperative Enterprises (ACEs) and processors which have marketed his machines.

He has recently started work on building tractors that can cultivate land, irrigate it as well as shell maize. However, he is limited by funds given the heavy capital investment required.

“The tractor can transport produce from the gardens. It runs at 40 kilometres per hour with five gears, one-piston engine, and 30 horsepower and with lighting,” he adds.

Government support towards the likes of Munyegera would have impact on ground given its aspiration to industrialise and improve the agricultural sector.

Future prospects
His dream is to find resources to enable him have large scale production capacity that can in turn allow him operate nationwide showrooms which will cut transport costs for clients or farmers in northern, eastern, central and south western Uganda.

“I believe that mechanising agriculture encourage people to join the sector, especially the youth who operate these machines. They use less effort. The more farmers who can access these technologies, the more I am encouraged to produce more machines. I would like to play a part in training youths in using machines and wielding. For instance, one machine is operated by six people.”

Mechanisation is a step in adding value to produce. To that end, the Mayuge-based innovator, argues that support towards mechanisation, is encouragement towards creation of employment for youths, reducing produce losses in agriculture, adding value to produce and eliminating disease in plants and animals or human beings, for example aflatoxins.

“If the value chain is broken, quality is lost in the end. Value addition is an addition to quality of life and assurance of creation of jobs. Youth have a role to play along this chain,” he further observes.

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