At around 9.15am, I reach Bukasa, in Bweyogerere, Kira Division, Wakiso District, where Rebecca Fridah Ichimo was busy selling bananas to her customers. From the number of people waiting in the queue, it is easy to conclude how busy her days can be and the good relationship she has with clients. Ichimo wears a smile, welcomes and fully engages her customers.
“After graduation, my efforts to secure a job were fruitless, even when I tried so hard to find one. Eighteen months later, my days were characterised by sleeping, cooking, eating and watching TV. Life was so boring. I asked myself so many questions. I was depressed. I could not live like this anymore. After months of meditation, I made up my mind to start an income generating venture regardless of how small it was, to take care of the family,” she reveals.
Ichimo embarked on a market survey. Her mission was to find out how the matooke business works- operational costs, profits, challenges, market, among other factors. She was fortunate to find a kindhearted businesswoman in Mukono market who shared with her all the details.
Although she wanted to have a matooke stall around her home area, in Mukono, she failed to get vacant and favourable places in Mukono or Mbalala. She opted for any area. But this according to Ichimo, required hiring someone. “My aunt was very positive when I told her that I wanted to start a matooke business. My aunt and I started searching for space in the markets. One day, we came across this place well-built but vacant shelter in Bukasa, and according to residents, it had not been occupied for some time,” she recalls.
With determination, Ichimo looked for the landlady, who gave her the go-ahead, provided she made monthly payments. Since Ichimo was not working, she did not have capital, but she asked her husband to give her Shs500,000, which she used to pay rent, fix the shelter and clear the bushes.
Three days later, she ordered for 60 bunches of matooke worth Shs600,000 from Mbarara which were delivered to her stall and she started working.
“Initially, I needed about Shs2m to start, but I did not have it. However, I was determined to work whether I had money or not. I talked to a friend and he accepted to supply matooke on credit. He gave me matooke worth Shs600,000, which I paid four days after selling all the bunches. I made Shs720,000 from the first stock.
“On the second purchase, I ordered for 20 bunches and three bags of banana fingers worth Shs300,000. Each bag then cost Shs100,000. I reduced the bunches by 10 and invested in fingers because that is what people wanted,” she says.
Catering for all clients
Unlike clients who can afford to buy a bunch of matooke, Ichimo realised that some of her clients preferred banana fingers because they were pocket-friendly. She now sells matooke for as low as Shs1,000. Today, she orders a truck full of matooke, weekly. She also purchases sacks of banana fingers (emyela) alongside bunches.
“My business has grown. I have many loyal customers. I supply matooke to wholesale and retail customers who stay far from where I work. I have the capacity to order for 50 bags of banana fingers and 50 bunches,” Ichimo adds.
Just like other business people dealing in agricultural products, Ichimo has no standard prices since rates keep on fluctuating. “During the bumper harvest, there is too much matooke on the market. When the supply is high, selling price automatically goes down and vice versa,” Ichimo clarifies.
She currently sells her bunches between Shs10,000 and Shs20,000 depending on the size. But when the harvesting season is over, she sells a bunch between Shs15,000 and Shs30,000.
Besides selling matooke, the budding businesswoman has introduced other food items such as pumpkins, avocado, irish potatoesand plantain (gonja). On a good day, Ichimo says she can make Shs650,000 on a good day and Shs100,000 on a bad day. “I make more money on days when I offload new stock because there are always pending orders.”
Ichimo says she has set up a fast food restaurant in the neighbouring town. She prides in her ability to pay her bills without having to depend on a man for everything. She says her capital has also increased fromShs500,000 to Shs3m in period of four months.
“I have to deal with irate customers everyday. Many do not respect our job. Sometimes, deliveries are delayed, which affects customers and compromises the quality of matooke. “One day, the truck delayed to come. Upon arrival, 90 per cent of the bunches had ripened. Out of the 22 bags of banana fingers I had purchased, two bags were ripe. This was a big loss.
Despite the challenges, Ichimo says, five years from now, she will be a proud owner of the state-of-the art restaurant in Kampala.