Optimistic. When Stella Asio failed to make it in vegetable growing, she switched to cheese making and through her networks, her cheese business is growing tremendously. Charlotte Ninsiima shares her story.
After failing to break even as a commercial vegetable grower, Stella Asio decided to venture into making cheese.
“My husband was my first teacher into cheese making. I had also worked in an Italian restaurant, so I knew the different types of cheese,” she recalls.
“I started to process cheese at home using a saucepan. I started with only 50 litres of milk and over the years, my business has grown steadily,” says Asio.
Asio, a mother of three, makes different kinds of cheese such as mozzarella-used for making pizza, baking and riccota after cheese, used for making biscuits and sweets as well as cacciotta and strachino.
“I buy a litre of milk at Shs2,000 from small scale farmers in Gayaza or Kirombe. I purchase concentrated milk in order to make quality products. I make 450 litres of cheese everyday,” Asio explains.
Asio sells in all quantities and prices ranging from Shs50,000 to Ushs60,000
She produces cheese daily as the main product but also sells bread, pizza, yoghurt, fruit jams, pasta sauce and cakes to friends and family. Asio also teaches other farmers about organic practices in farming and shares knowledge to improve production.”
“The taste of my products is very unique. I read and do research about good cheese products and how they are done. I am constantly learning. I get in touch with my clients to obtain feedback about my products,” says Asio.
Asio says she has started making gluten and lactose free products for people with gluten challenges.
“There is a lady who failed to eat Ugandan bread but when she tasted my products, she was happy to see me make gluten free bread,” she says.
“When people give positive remarks about my products, I feel energised” one of the champions of Uganda Farmers Food Basket (UFFB) remarks, adding, “I am happy to solve people’s health problem by giving them healthy products such as gluten and lactose free products to those who are allergic to them. Also small scale farmers’ products have market and they are excited about great harvests,” Asio explains.
How she managed to grow
Asio says her networks have exposed her to better opportunities, market and more knowledge on cheese production. She says she also leverages clients’ feedback to improve the quality of cheese. “I am also in a WhatsApp group of cheese producers around the world and this gives me an opportunity to learn about the cheese products, different types, packaging and branding and mingle with other cultures,” she explains.
“I sell my products on market days for international schools such as Ambrosoli, International School of Uganda, American Embassy and Italian Embassy. I also supply my cheese products to Sheraton Hotel, Protea and Skyz Hotel and other restaurants,” says Asio.
It has not been easy to achieve
same goals under UFFB because most farmers in the city violate the rules. UFFB is training farmers, especially in rural areas to adapt to organic practices, food handling, value addiction, post-harvest storage, creation of market for their products.
If food is not stored or packaged well, it is easy to introduce it to pathogens, which makes it lose its value. “We have about 800-1000 farmers in Kamuli, Bukedea and Ngora. I support my family and coach people to do business. Currently I employ four people,” Asio explains.
“Ugandans are not cheese eaters which takes me a lot of time to explain how they should appreciate cheese in their daily diet. Many Ugandans have been brainwashed to use preservatives and food colours in the production of food items or drinks.
Many ask why my strawberry yoghurt is white. Consumers prefer exported products. Not many understand organic food. Areg Agro Food is registered with Dairy Development Authority, therefore they take cheese occasionally for testing, which is also expensive. I am only selling in restaurants because they need the product to make a special soup delicacy.”
“Find something that you are passionate about and start. Start your business from home until you can afford rent fees.”
“I want to acquire a quality mark for all my products.I want my business to grow, run from generation to generation. I also plan to set up a cheese production centre, that will counter challenges of high prices, increased costs of production of milk products and supply. I intend to acquire machinery to match production levels with market demand. I want to be able to produce 800-1000 litres weekly. Today, my pasteuriser can only produce 150 litres and it is hectic doing it manually. I aim at producing healthy meal options for children.”