Naysayers did not deter my vision, says Mubeezi

Lydia Mubeezi makes avocado tea powder and other healthy products. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • Lydia Mubeezi was the fifth winner in the 2022 edition of Rising Woman which had 200 competitors.
  • She is the founder of East Star Healthy Products, which makes avocado and Okra seed powder. These are rich in folic acid and fibre. 

IIn December 2019, Irene Lydia Mubeezi lost her job. From her net salary, Mubeezi paid her children’s school fees, rent, feeding, utility bills and met her other financial bills. 

After months of unsuccessful job search, the 42-year-old decided to start a business.

“Looking for a job had become a job itself, except that it was not paying. I had a burning desire to start a business but I did not have capital,” Mubeezi says. 

After days of contemplating on the kind of business Mubeezi wanted to start, she researched and found out that avocado seeds contain folic acid and fibre and this would help anemic, hypertensive and diabetic people in detoxification. 

She decided to head to Kibuye market in Kampala and collected avocado seeds to make tea powder. She cleaned the seeds, diced them with a knife and grated them.

“After drying the grated avocado seeds, I borrowed Shs50,000 from my cousin. I took the avocado seeds to Owino market for milling and paid Shs6,000 for the 20 kilogrammes of avocado tea powder,” Mubeezi recalls.

Uncertain of the market, Mubeezi packed the powder in three containers and gave one to her brothers and two to her uncle to help market her products.

“My uncle advertised the product to his friends. People started buying my product,” says Mubeezi. She named her product Avacatin Powder Antioxidant.

Recognising efforts
“A week later, my uncle called me and said five people wanted to buy avocado tea. I sold it at Shs5,000 and Shs10,000, which encouraged me to buy good containers for the powder,” Mubeezi recounts. 

On Sundays, Mubeezi moved with containers of the avocado tea powder and displayed them at the church premises, for people to buy. 

“I was motivated to move from office to office, marketing my product and people bought in reasonable numbers. In the first three months of 2020, I had made Shs2m from the business,” Mubeezi says.

In March 2020, her family embarked on a project to construct a house for their mother and Mubeezi made a contributions of Shs1m. 

Early challenges
Mubeezi met resistance from her family, who had different perceptions about her product. 

“When I visited my brother with the products, he laughed at me and told my mother I had started selling herbal things. They said I needed counselling,” she says.

Her mother advised her to return to the village and embark on agriculture because she was jobless.
“Whenever I went to sell the tea powder at church, I felt ashamed and looked desperate on some days,” Mubeezi recalls.

When Covid-19 hit and lockdown was announced, Mubeezi’s family members asked her to return home, saying she would not survive in Kampala but she stayed. 

Turning point
Mubeezi received orders from her former customers even during lockdown. With regular income from her sales, she shopped rice, posho and ground nuts and stocked in her house. This is how she managed to survive.

“During the lockdown, the number of clients increased and I would deliver the tea powder myself. When we came out of lockdown, selling avocado tea powder became a fulltime job,” Mubeezi explains.

Different people got to know about Mubeezi’s products and through such networks, she built partnerships with organisations such as ECOS, which help her to advertise online. 

Uganda Small Scale Industries links Mubeezi to other projects. ECOS has also facilitated product certification and with this, she hopes to start exporting her products soon.

Mubeezi has since diversified her products through value addition under her company East Star Healthy Products Limited and has a team of 10 people, including a food scientist and a cosmetologist.

Production process
Mubeezi buys avocadoes from her village in Jinja District. They keep them for three to five days, until they are ripe. They peel them and get the seeds out and wash them. While peeling, they reserve the avocado flesh for use as well. The team does this with protective gears such as gumboots, jackets and gloves to avoid contamination during the process. 

Avocado seeds are diced using a chopping machine, an activity that goes on for a day. After dicing, they are dried using a solar dryer for two to three days, after which they take them to the milling machine.

After milling, the food scientist tastes the milled avocado to ensure there is no bacteria which could come as a result of contamination during production and checks the temperature. 

The powder is then packaged in containers, labelled and they wait for customers to place their orders. 

“There are various products on the streets and when people see your product on the street, they will not value it. They will think it is fake,” Mubeezi explains.

East Star Healthy Products include avocado seed powder, Okra seed powder, Prunus Africana, stay health avocado jelly made from avocado seed and food. Other products include stay healthy Okra jelly, stay healthy turmeric jelly, stay healthy papaya and carrot cream, natural soap from Okra and stay healthy turmeric jelly.

Even with a good number of products, Mubeezi is challenged with limited market because people are used to modern tea products and have to first trust the brand before they consume it. Some avocadoes have bacteria and this causes losses. 

How unique are the products?
Mubeezi says her products are authentic and when she is delivering them, time management is key.  

“When I tell you it is an avocado product, I mean it. Even when customers order for 20 containers when the products are out of stock, I openly tell them to wait until we produce others,” Mubeezi shares.

She adds that she sacrifices, money, time and her social life to focus on the business.  “When you lose one customer, you have lost 10 million customers.”

Rising Woman experience
Mubeezi was the fifth winner in the 2022 edition of Rising Woman. She says she felt the value of her effort despite being a first timer in the competition.

“I did not know how to write a proposal.  I read their advert and tailored the proposal to what they required of applicants. I was called to defend the proposal, attend the trainings and the final call was congratulating me upon winning an all-expense paid trip to Nairobi” Mubeezi says, adding that the competition had 200 women competitors.

During the business trip to Nairobi, she tapped knowledge from different businesswomen who have prospered in entrepreneurship and this has not left her the same. Mubeezi has since invested in online marketing and created a physical address for business. 

“I learnt that when you leave everything to the workers, your business crumbles. You have to be there yourself, a principle I have applied at each production step of my products,” Mubeezi asserts adding that she is using social media to market her products with the help of ECOS, her business partner. 

Future plans
“My plan is to set up a factory in Busoga, sub-region.  I want to employ youth and vulnerable women” she says.

She also longs for a day when she will see many vehicles on various streets in Uganda with a label of East Star Healthy Products Limited. 

“We are finalising plans to start exporting Okra and avocado products. Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is auditing our work and products in order to certify us,” she adds. 
Impact on community

In Jinja where Mubeezi hails, people have appreciated the value of avocado seeds. They collect them and take them for sale to Mubeezi’s home.

Okra, turmeric and paw paw farmers also earn from East Star Healthy Products Limited by providing raw materials.

Mubeezi aspires to leave a blueprint in Busoga sub-region for improving people’s livelihoods.
To aspiring women entrepreneurs.

“Start with the little capital that you have. If you wait to have Shs10m to start a business, you may wait forever. Seek knowledge. Be focused and nurture your start up. Sacrifice time and money. Leave the rest to God,” Mubeezi tips.