To become wealthy, we must make honey from Arua cheaper than that from Australia

Mr Daniel K. Kalinaki

What you need to know:

  • I love my country but I don’t want to conduct a lab experiment every time I want some honey spread on my neighbourhood bread.

When we moved out of Kampala and into the sticks we discovered a small patisserie in the neighbourhood. The bread was so-so, but it was oven-fresh, baked in a back room. Whenever we needed to buy bread it was here that we came, and still do.

 Later I discovered a small coffee shop up the road with an unassuming yet pretty decent barista and cup, which became and remains a much-visited pitstop. The bigger chains have started moving in and there is a lot more variety for shops and cafes, but the appeal of the small mom-and-pop stores remains strong.

 Part of it is just plain old sentimentality and that instinct to side with the underdog. Much of it, however, is rational and even logical. Supporting the local baker means she can pay rent to her landlady and salaries to her assistants. The landlady can invest in more rentals, giving pass-through business to the hardware shops, and employment to builders.
 More jobs in the neighbourhood keep more people happy and productive. In buying bread locally and contributing to young people climbing out of poverty, I am trying to remove the incentives for them to climb over my fence in the night instead in search of bread. 

 Young muscular men who have spent a full exhausting day working on a building site are likely to retire to bed early, especially if more work awaits them in the morning, not roam the neighbourhood with concealed road pavers looking for a quick, violent buck. Supporting local businesses allows me to sleep better at night.

 Imagine the impact we would have if we took this simple concept and expanded it to more small and medium businesses across the country. Take coffee, for example, which has been the scandal-filled flavour of many months now.

The stated government policy is to increase the amount of Ugandan coffee produced, consumed and exported. Billions have been squandered in whimsical schemes to teach Ugandans how to drink the stuff, or in opening up shop fronts in random pubs in eastern Europe.

Yet when your columnist visited the Ministry of Finance and Bank of Uganda board rooms in quick succession last year, he was offered imported instant coffee. These two institutions are not the exception; walk into any government agency today and if you don’t find Nescafe on offer it is because the procurement guys read this article in the morning and have now hidden the tins. Only State House, of all places, seems to serve decent brewed Ugandan coffee -- unless they do it to impress your columnist the few times he has been summoned there.

How much more value would we create and retain if we served properly brewed Ugandan coffee or tea in every public office? Instead of pontificating on grand policy plans and rifling through taxpayer pockets to hand money to dodgy cabals, how about we wake up and simply serve Ugandan coffee?
The next step is to go sector by sector and help Ugandan brands that have managed to make it to supermarket shelves improve the quality of their products and the sustainability of their value chains.

In keeping with the self-preserving, paver-avoiding, need to support local businesses cited above, I like to buy local products as much as possible when I go shopping. This is an easy choice in many product classes like milk, sugar, cheese and meats. In others, however, it is a leap of faith and a test of patriotism. 

Take loo paper, for instance. A friend I worked with many years ago left the newsroom and ventured into the loo paper industry. There is a certain pride in buying a product made by someone you know – but his product, and that of some local rivals, has the thin integrity of a politician’s election promise, and the smoothness of sandpaper. Never before has friendship sailed so close to disaster!

I recently marvelled at the variety of locally produced honey available on the supermarket shelves then I noticed, with alarm, that it cost more than that produced and imported from Australia, the United States and even the United Arab Emirates. 

I don’t know how they keep bees in the Arabian desert or motivate those in Australia to be super productive. But if someone can land a jar of honey from the Australian bush onto the shelves of a supermarket in Kampala cheaper than you can do it out of Bushenyi then we have a problem. 

 I don’t know what it takes to motivate bees in Uganda but walking down the value chain to make sure our products are price-competitive when they get to the supermarket shelf should be a national priority. Value addition to agricultural produce is our highway out of poverty but only if we have or can create a price advantage for local consumption and the export market.

 The next step would be on the product quality itself. Our honey is organic – so much so that it crystallises after a few days of being opened and has to be set in warm water before use. This is great and makes me want to belt out a stanza of the national anthem, but I kinda like the free-flowing golden Australian stuff. I love my country but I don’t want to conduct a lab experiment every time I want some honey spread on my neighbourhood bread.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and  poor man’s freedom fighter. 
[email protected]; @Kalinaki