Grapes grower’s pursuit of wine making

Mr Kamanyiro checking on his grapes. PHOTO BY ALFRED TUMUSHABE

This a tale of a former civil servant who has relentlessly pursued the gains from vine grape growing and wine making...
Eleven years ago, the little known Mbarara grape farmer Stanislaus Kamanyiro hosted President Yoweri Museveni at his home in Katojo village, Nyakayojo Rwampara Sub County.

The memorable visit was a result of Mbarara District’s winning at the 1998 Jinja Agriculture Show. Mr Kamanyiro’s grape plantlets, fruits and grape wine at Mbarara’s stall then, captured the president’s attention during the exhibition.

This was not the first time this farmer’s products were stealing the show. In 1996 at the Mbarara exhibition, he was the best and he earned the top prize of a big radio cassette handed to him by Eng John Nasasira, the chief guest.

A long way
Mr Kamanyiro started sluggishly, the alien grape growing venture 30 years ago, and gradually sold the project to the area farmers who today have metamorphosed into a formidable grape vine growing group; Uganda Grapes Growers Development Association (UGGDA).

“We chose grape growing, a unique and maiden enterprise in Mbarara District and Uganda as a whole because vine grapes are a high value crop compared with most of our traditional crops,” says Kamanyiro.

The group also mentored Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) as their female sub group. On March 8, 1999 at the Women’s Day cerebrations in Mbarara, YWCA exhibited grape fruits, and wine which again impressed the president who was the chief guest.

“When the president reached at the YWCA stall, he connected with our Jinja display and was impressed. This became the turning point in the whole struggle of my growing grapes and making wine. The president promised to visit me and has come here 10 times,” says Kamanyiro.

Initial struggle
Mr Kamanyiro who studied Biology, Chemistry and Geography at St Mary’s College Kisubi from 1970-71 and pursued a Diploma in Agricultural Engineering at Egertion University in Kenya, first worked with the Ministry of Agriculture as a pasture development officer in Wandegeya and Mbarara. In 1978, his curiosity led him to transplant at the hedge, a grape seedling plant that had “aimlessly” been brought home by his young brother.

“My brother brought two seedlings and planted them in the banana plantation. When I asked what they were, I was told they are grape plantlets that produce fruits from where wine is made. I transplanted one, and planted it near the house and that was the beginning,” Mr Kamanyiro recalls.

He says it is love for farming and a natural urge in him to employ his hands that made him pay attention to his young brother’s seedling and later drop the less practical government job in 1987 after 13 years in service.

The vine grape plantlets, very rare those days, found their way to Katojo village inadvertently. A village mate had picked them from Nyamitanga Catholic Archdiocese where he served as a casual labourer.

“We had never seen grapes but I had read about them in books. We heard they were grown in France and Italy where wine is produced. This labourer may have been impressed by the ripe fruits which are also edible and chose to bring and plant them at his home,” he says.
Mr Kamanyiro says grapes were brought to Nyamitanga by Catholic Fathers and Brothers from Italy and France and it was hard to access their dwellings if one was not staying there.

His plant, which still produces a lot, grew up to seven years still barren because Mr Kamanyiro lacked the knowledge on how to make it produce fruit. It did not produce fruits until he applied the knowledge he acquired from the German Brother called Karl he found in Nyamitanga.

“I met Brother Karl. He had basic information. He told me to prune it and that was the turning point, I realised about two kilogrammes of grapes in the first harvest,” he says.

Enhancing it produced fruits, but the hassle was far from over. Mr Kamanyiro still had difficulty in making wine from those fruits.

“I said if France and Italy can produce wine, why not us here since we now have the fruits,” he said. He did not have the requisite machines and technology and had therefore had to use try and error techniques albeit unsuccessfully.

“I would squeeze grapes using grass, the way we make banana juice, and then ferment it using local containers. But it would not become real wine. I would wash the grass and then suspend them to get dry before using them because I was concerned with the health standards,” he says.

He was later to discover that grass was not necessary since they would change the content of the juice. I had to look for other means of pressing grapes. At one time, I accidentally made real wine but the next trial failed. I kept trying every season and by 1996 I was making good wine.”

People including friends begun to patronise his home for grape wine, then selling a 750 ml bottle of wine at Shs6,000. He now sells it at Shs15,000. Mr Kamanyiro consequently left his job and concentrated on developing his technology, growing grapes and promoting grape farming beyond the village.

President’s visit
When Kamanyiro gave President Museveni the profile of the project, including the crude technology and farming methods, he earned a month long sponsorship to Germany to study grape growing and wine making.

He lived at Mr Kaspari and Leo Basten’s farms and wineries from June 11 in 2000 and returned with vast knowledge in viticulture. “I worked in grape farms and wine factories. I came back with knowledge which I have been able to use to enhance grape growing and wine production,” he says.

Since he returned in 2000, Mr Kamanyiro has popularised the project and the association has a local membership of 370 farmers with over 6,000 out growers from districts of Mbarara, Kabale, Rukungiri, Kanungu, Ibanda, Isingiro and Kisoro.

Naads has taken the project to Kigezi sub region where 12 sub counties in Kabale, three sub counties in Kanungu and six in Rukungiri are growing grapes, employing the technical knowledge of Mr Kamanyiro.
He has built a manual winery at his home where he buys and processes his and some farmers’ grape produce, but its capacity is too small and he says it’s is a setback to his pursuits.

He says its production capacity is 2,000 litres in a season but they would be producing 20,000 litres if they had a modern one. “The pivotal component of the grape enterprise is a winery for value addition. Many farmers have been frustrated because we don’t have a modern winery,” he says.

Mr Kamanyiro says, they have not been able to sell wine constantly because of lack of appropriate containers for wine processing and aging.

With proper management, he says, vine grapes yield heavily twice a year presenting alternatives to crops that may be eradicated by diseases. This advantage can be enjoyed by most parts of Uganda as grapes thrive in a wide range of soils, he says.

“A well managed acre of grapes will yield up to seven tonnes of grape fruit a year with resulting income of Shs14m at the lowest and Shs35m at the highest farm-gate price. When value is added to the grapes through wine processing, a farmer expects to earn some Shs42 m a year per acre,” he says.

His wine is sold to individuals, business and institutions in Mbarara and Kampala. Mr Kamanyiro says he can now earn Shs12m from selling grape plant lets, grape fruits, wine and his knowledge. “Grape wine has an international market. It is used in churches, at weddings, in bars and it’s medicinal and recommended by doctors,” he says of its vast use.

He says the government through Naads and in collaboration with Uganda Industrial Research Institute has promised to buy wine processing equipment for the association.

“We are growing slowly in the market because of the operations standards. The government promised us a winery but it has not come,” he says. UGGA has already acquired three acres of land on which to build a winery that is expected to cost Shs200m.

It has won accolades and cash for its role in poverty eradication. In 2008, UGGA won the Civil Society Capacity Building Programme award and were rewarded with Shs12m in recognition of their innovativeness, exemplary work and high standards of performance towards sustainable development.

In 2004, UGGDA won the Masheriki Innovations, a UN habitat programme; in recognition of poverty alleviation and were rewarded with Shs3m.

Mr Kamanyiro told Vice President Gilbert Bukenya who visited him at his home on March 10, that export markets, especially of the organic grapes and wine are waiting if they can be produced at acceptable standards.

Mr Bukenya promised to remind the president about the winery and would interest Energy Minister Hilary Onek to extend power from the nearby Ruti town to this small scale industry.

Mr Kamanyiro has no regrets of this three decade undertaking. Apart from helping people earn an income, he says he has been able to build a permanent house and educated his seven children, three of whom are university graduates while four are in secondary schools.

Apart from grape vine, Kamanyiro grows oranges, mangoes, passion fruits, bananas and avocados which contributes to his income.