When 28-year old Wilson Talenga failed to get a job despite holding a First Class Degree in Bachelor of Science in Statistics from Kampala International University (KIU), he looked for viable options.
After three years of joblessness, he started a salt packaging business in 2019.
While the youth were grappling with aftershocks of the lockdown, he was thriving in making salt –a highly sought-after commodity during the three-month lockdown.
To get the world’s attention, Talenga in May tweeted: “Before Covid-19, I started a salt packaging initiative under the brand #EQCSalt. After four years of unemployment and looking at the market gap, I had to go this way with the little savings. Drive UG higher.”
The married father-of-one and resident of Mafubira-Kayunga in Jinja West, Jinja District, was born in Musisi village, Buyengo Sub-county, Kagoma County. He attended Exodus Primary School in Buyengo Sub-county, where he obtained aggregate Six in 2005.
He later joined Gateway High School, Muguluka for both Ordinary and Advanced level studies, where he scored aggregate 23 and 19 points in PEM/Entrepreneurship, respectively.
Having missed out on a government sponsorship slot, he joined KIU on a district bursary where he had been admitted to pursue a degree in Telecommunications Engineering.
“Due to little support, I couldn’t handle the extra cost which required me to top-up. So I opted for a cheaper course (Statistics).
Life at campus
While at Campus, he taught Mathematics and Physics in private schools to raise hostel fees, feeding and semester functional fees.
“I was teaching at Jireh Comprehensive Secondary School, Njeru Municipality in Buikwe District, where I earned about Shs250,000. But this couldn’t cover all my bills. So, I acquired a laptop from a friend and begun freelancing in academic research and writing,” he says.
It was from academic research and writing that Talenga got his own laptop and a modem which became his capital.
“I spent my off duty days applying for work from sites such as Lancer hop and Writers’ Hub which I had subscribed to. I worked through the night to manage orders, earn some extra income to cover rent and support my little brothers who are still in school,” he recounts.
Adding: “I, however, set a target of at least $40 (about Shs145,000) per week and earned it. I saved half of it and used the rest.”
After two years of freelancing and teaching, he landed on a statistics project and one medical project (a thesis for a Masters and a PhD student at Oxford University) which enabled him save Shs3m as he applied for more work.
Instead of buying a boda boda which his friends were obsessed with, he put his Entrepreneurship knowledge and skills to use, started a market research and assessment to identify a few manageable market gaps.
“There were many opportunities but I wanted one that could add value to the community and employ at least four people, as opposed to a boda boda which could only employ one person.
“I also needed to invest in a viable business which could cover essential commodities. Sugar was one of them, but I couldn’t add value to the sugar industry. So, I zeroed down on salt because it has a ready market and almost all Ugandans consume salt,” he adds.
Talenga then took to the Internet and researched on how to process salt from raw materials and the necessary equipment needed. He watched a few YouTube videos of various factories around the world.
Since he needed Shs100m against Shs6m he had saved, he continued teaching and freelancing while exploring more about the salt industry.
All he needed was a brand for his salt, packaging material, space, protective gears, containers, tables and two machines (impulse sealers) to start.
“I established the cost of each of the materials but all my savings couldn’t cover them. I opened up to a friend who works with Ntake Bakery as a driver and he helped me with some money.
“But I still had the opportunity to use at least Shs6m to start a simple process of packaging already processed salt (adding value to it) as I pondered how to acquire a Shs70m machine to process salt from raw materials,” Talenga notes.
Talenga apportioned the little money he had and purchased all the items. However, space was a problem. So, he turned his sitting room into a production plant and took to the Internet to identify the possible suppliers of salt within the country. He got two.
He then sourced Victoria Nile plastics to make the packaging material (where he still gets the packaging material), which he says was much more expensive than earlier estimated.
He spent Shs1.4m on 100Kg of packaging paper plus Shs400,000 on design to appeal to customers; plus 50Kg of plain big sized polythene bag for packing.
With Shs4m, he got started with one tonne of salt which cost him about Shs1m. But as time went on, he increased his capital to Shs6m.
The capital, he says, was accumulated savings from his job as a teaching assistant at a secondary school where he earned a monthly salary of Shs250,000, while the other bit came from part-time freelancing.
“I started with three people, including myself. One was packaging, I did the sealing which I had learnt online and the third person did the cartoning,” he explains.
“When business increased, I employed three more people, bringing the total number of workers to five. I work part-time as I have to attend classes (Masters in Statistics at KIU), handle some research and academic writing which is seasonal.
“One of the employees holds a Certificate in Business Administration, two completed Senior Six and are looking for money to proceed. One did Mechanical Engineering at Certificate level and another studied a Diploma in Accounting. They are paid an average weekly wage of between Shs40,000 to Shs75,000.”
“High transport costs and fluctuating prices of Shs38,000 in early 2019 to Shs75,000 per 50Kg bag, increase in prices of salt, packaging materials and fuel have affected production and lowered the output,” he says.
The market is flooded with Kenyan salt brands which consumers are used to and introducing them to his brand was an uphill task.
Also, inadequate capital has limited his expansion goal of starting a primary salt manufacturing plant.
Furthermore, a fluctuation in the price of raw salt, he says, has greatly affected the business. There has been an increase in prices from Shs76,000 per bag of salt to over Shs150,000 per bag within a space of two years.
Price of salt
Because prices are fluctuating, Talenga says that on average, he sells his salt at Shs146,000 per 100Kg, noting that before the Covid-19 crisis, a carton of salt which contains 40 packets of 500g was supplied at Shs20,000 to Shs215,000 to wholesalers and retailers respectively.
“However, it has increased to Shs37,000, which is my current price to wholesalers. I keep my prices below imported packaged salt from Kenya because some Ugandans have a negative attitude towards local products even when they are of better quality,” he says.
Adding: “I add value by packaging it in smaller quantities and supply to Jinja Town and the surrounding areas such as Njeru, Mbiko and Buwenge. Mayuge and part of Namayingo also take in large quantities.”
Talenga, who gets a profit of between Shs180,000 and Shs200,000 for every 100 cartons sold, advises that one must set goals for business. You need to invest in a product that has value, and one in which the population can’t do without.
Talenga hopes to start a primary salt processing plant to stop the dependency on already manufactured salt from Kenya.
A primary plant, he reckons, will process and manufacture salt and be in position to offset any inflation caused by challenges in our neighbouring country and avail more job opportunities for the youth.
He also intends to diversify into bakery which he has started on, and a ceramics industry to produce products which are currently imported.
“I also wish to invest in a coffee manufacturing plant that makes coffee ready for consumption. Currently, the economy is heavily relying on imported products and I want to change that by investing in an import substitution strategy,” he says.