Ebuk cut production cycles from 5 to 2 days

Cooking oil

What you need to know:

  • The company shortened their cooking oil production cycles from five to two days thanks to procuring a centrifuge machine.  They also raised financial support that enabled them install three-phase power and 100KVA transformer to support the bulk operations.

It has been said that money to start a money making agenda goes to a select group of people. However, Aaron Byaruhanga of MasterCard Foundation, in partnership with NSSF to have the NSSF Hi-Innovator programme says they are here to debunk that myth. The programme gives them a chance to put in their idea to stand a chance of winning.  

James Ebuk is among the 42 entrepreneurs that were selected to pitch their idea to an investment panel consisting of seasoned Ugandan entrepreneurs. He is among the 30 winners who got seed funding from the programme.

Entrepreneurial journey

His journey started in 2013. Despite graduating with a Bachelor of Science in ICT from Makerere University remained unemployed. Luckily, he joined an International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) project under National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS). Here, he interacted with a fish farmer from Matugga who was interested in buying half a tonne of hybrid maize seed to plant and use for feeding his fish. Being an old man, Ebuk wondered where the man would get the money for the purchase.

“Alas! He pulled out money from his socks and paid Shs5m.”
He  probed to find out the source of this money. The fish farmer showed him three ponds from which he harvests more than Shs13m.  That led Ebuk to enroll for a fisheries course at Aquaculture Development Research Centre (ARDC) at Kajjansi for a year. His fisheries career was highly influenced by Constantine Ondoro Chobet, from the Fisheries Institute who taught him the practical work at no fee.

“A candle loses nothing from lighting another candle,” he told Ebuk, the founder of Awelo Millers And Packers Investment Ltd.

The Agri-enterprise specialises in fish breeding (fish technologies), grain and oil seed processing of maize flour, rice, rice soya flour and sunflower vegetable cooking oil (value addition).
Before joining the NSSF Hi-innovator programme, it was tough pushing the business from loan to loan and reinvesting returns.

“I was focused on aligning the production chain through mechanising processes. I also had to find a way to feed the machinery with raw materials,” Ebuk shares.

To minimise costs, he employed only five staff members which meant doubling roles and working overtime. But, productivity slowed down. The company also lacked an accountant save a basic cashier and a counter book for record keeping. That led to several accountability gaps. The company was at the brink of caving in.

Ebuk started the company in 2015 with Shs2m which was used to buy hatching basins and parent fish. However, fish feed became a problem as the price of formulated fish feeds was expensive. He started investing in machinery such as maize mills, rice hullers, oil press mills, pelleting machines. To solve poor disposal of by products, Awelo opened a chain of three factories in three different locations to add value to by-products.

“Our business is best understood in a circular economy where all by products such as maize brand, sunflower cake and other concentrates are mixed to make fish feeds for our fish. We also make bar and bathing soaps from the soft stock sunflower residues. We ensure minimal wastage by practicing a zero waste policy that promotes maximum resource utilisation,” he shares.

When applying for the NSSF programmes, Ebuk’s focus was financing but says the pre-accelerator online course was the major highlight.

“I only knew 30 per cent of what it takes to run and maintain a successful enterprise. I later appreciated that working closely with hubs is the best mode of incubation for any business because hubs dissect your business and advise without bias,” Ebuk shares.

From the accelerator phase in the programme, each participant was assigned to a special team that works even closer with them to properly align their business records, financial behaviours, statements  and audits, customers, market share, strength and product visibility, tax obligations, and NSSF remittance.
“All this builds your investment readiness capacity portfolio,” Ebuk shares.

The oil mill in Oyam District. 20-litre jerrycans of cooking oil.

Scaling up
Through the programme, the company shortened their cooking oil production cycles from five to two days thanks to a recently procurement of a centrifuge machine.  They also raised financial support that enabled them install three-phase power and 100KVA transformer to support the bulk operations.

“The finances are also better as we upgraded quick books then to a custom-made accounting software that provides real time data and analysis powered by MYAccounts from smart business intelligence,” Ebuk shares.
The number of people employed has also increased to 11 fully employed staff members (four females and seven  male) plus 25 female contracted workers.

“We have also engaged and on-boarded 400 more farmers in the out growers scheme to take the number of out-growers to 1,200 and project an increase of 60,000kgs of sunflower produce. All our farmers have also been trained on the best agronomic practices and have been given Sun fola hybrid input seed to plant,” Ebuk shares.

Running business
It takes sacrifice, determination and clear vision to run the business. In his case, Ebuk had to sacrifice the lavish town lifestyle and adapt to the northern region rural setting because the fish business can only scale up in an area with spring or bore-hole water rather than chlorinated water as is in urban areas. There is also need to dig or build ponds.  The job required Ebuk to perfect his Luo to ease interaction with the local small holder farmers.

Awelo Millers and Packers Investment Ltd depends on small holder farmers, some of whom are organised under cooperatives while others are in local village groups. These are the biggest stakeholders and contribute 70 per cent of the raw materials. The rest are by-products from the firm.

Target market
The company offers organic and virgin produce because they do not use any chemicals in their production processes. It also leverages on the fact that their product portfolio is very affordable at household level as compared to what the current market is offering. Their clients are health-conscious persons as well as adults, 15 years and above as they represent those with poor eating patterns.

Most of their clients are got through referrals because the company has purposed to deal honestly with its clients. In regard to fish consultancies, Ebuk does not charge any fees because he also got the knowledge free of charge. “We recommend our fingerlings and feed as first choice for a fish project we initiate or take on,” he shares. Their sunflower cooking oil is on high demand, as clients line up for it at the start of the harvest season.

Awelo Millers And Packers Investment Ltd has seven multiple revenue streams and three factories. Therefore, the services and products offered include milling and hulling, Awelo sunflower cooking oil, grade 1 maize flour, Awelo super rice, Awelo Bar soap, Awelo Rice-soya flour, Awelo fish and animal feeds and fish fingerlings. That brings in an average of Shs25m per month.

“Our target, that has proven to be a success growth metric, has been a constant profit of shs100,000 from each product, every day. The staff members have lived up to it,” Ebuk shares.

Since sunflower is seasonal, prices soar which affects production costs.

“Sunflower seed is a cash crop highly sought after by big buyers such as Mukwano or Mount Meru, who have a big financial muscle to buy as much as possible and store for off season periods,” he shares.

Future plans
Ebuk plans to on-board all the 1200 farmers in their out-grower scheme and this will cost at least Shs2b per season.


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