Why agro-processors’ move for eco-friendly packaging boosts climate change fight

A student from the Agro-processing and business management class at Bukalasa Agriculture College displays processed coffee by the students at the College. PHOTO | DAN WANDERA

What you need to know:

  • There has been a deliberate effort to train entrepreneurs to be able to get additional income in the manufacture of the eco-friendly packaging material and the recycling process for the waste packaging material 

One of the significant failures in the Climate Change fight revolves around the improper disposal of waste generated from non-degradable packaging material for the different products produced by the small, medium and large industrialists that remain littered and never recycled.

While the Small and Medium agro-processors earlier perceived as desirable and durable, the use of polythene bags and plastics for agro product packaging; the adverse effects of the non recycled waste on the Climate partly explains the renewed campaign for Eco-friendly packaging material.

The Community Women Enterprise Network Uganda in partnership with Bukalasa Agriculture College are undertaking projects in support of about 600 small entrepreneurs and farmer groups to develop agro-products packaged in eco-friendly materials including paper and the other easily recycled material.

While emphasis has been put on the value addition chain for the different agriculture products through quality control training for standards in line with the Uganda National Bureau Standards (UNBS) guidelines, re-aligning the trainings with the reality climate challenges partly brought about by poorly disposed of plastics and polythene bags is the reason for the eco-friendly packaging material.

Mr Enoch Kayongo Abigaba, a Food Scientist and lecturer at Bukalasa Agriculture College is part of the training teams for the more than 200 youthful small and medium entrepreneurs being mentored as Extension Quality Controllers in the field of agro-processing.

“While we equip them with the required skills in improving on their own developed products for purposes of meeting the certification standards before going to the market, we also believe that the entrepreneurs are the ambassadors that can promote environmentally friendly packaging materials. The use of paper boxes among other materials that can easily be recycled will be a boost to the climate change fight,” he says.

How it is done

In planning to market a product, packaging is among the first priority areas of focus. The biggest challenge has been on how to use the locally available material including paper, wood and boxes that are homemade for packaging. It has also been a big challenge in finding the right packaging material with a longer life shelf. The argument that some of the locally sourced packaging material may be expensive in terms of designing and labeling is the reason for the training to equip the entrepreneurs with the right skills.

This partly explains the deliberate effort for the training, where the entrepreneurs are helped to be able to get additional income in the manufacture of the eco-friendly packaging material and the recycling process for the waste packaging material.

After the vigorous training in the good hygiene practices, manufacturing standards and the internal auditing process in readiness for certification, the need to have the right packaging material is the next requirement.

Section of small scale agro-processors wave certificates after a skills training in processing, eco-friendly packaging among other skills in Wakiso District on November 23, 2023.

“However good the product could be, the way it is packaged and labeled to catch the eye of the customer is very important. For the extension quality controllers, the six month training and mentorship period will provide them with the required knowledge to help the many other small and medium upcoming entrepreneurs,” Mr Abigaba explains.

Targeting women and youth

Because the women and youth form the bulk of the small and medium entrepreneurs struggling to attain the required national and international standards, equipping them with the necessary skills for value addition is timely.

Mr Dennis Tibenkana, a trainer at the Community Women Enterprise Network says that more than 600 entrepreneurs and farmer groups in rural areas develop agriculture products sold on the market using the eco-friendly packaging materials aimed at promoting locally made materials that have a high potential for degrading.

“The eco-friendly packaging training is aimed at bridging the growing climate change gap. We target eliminating the use of plastics and polythene bags in favor of paper, wood among other easily degradable materials,” he says.

Eco-friendly packaging training

When the government in partnership with the World Bank upgraded Bukalasa Agriculture College to a Centre of Excellence in 2017, the government prioritized the skills development under the revised curriculum to suit the modern agriculture strategies and market demands.

Students undertaking the Agro-Processing and Business Management Course are exposed to the different skills in processing and value addition chain for the different agriculture products. Mr Enoch Kayongo Abigaba, a Food Scientist and Lecturer at Bukalasa Agriculture College says that while the eco-friendly packaging is part of the different course units, the need to equip agro-processors in fighting climate change is paramount.

“We are lucky that the government has extended to Bukalasa Agriculture College the modern Agro-processing units for the different agriculture products to boost the students’ skilling programs. The learners have access to all the production skills and the eco-friendly packaging training is a crucial aspect in the climate change fight,” he says.

The agro-processors are skilled in application of good hygiene production management, development of quality products, safety at the production Unit, hazards control measures, conducting an internal audit for products, understanding the legal requirements in product processing in preparation for certification by the UNBS.

The above steps are only complete with proper packaging that meets the required standards. The modern packaging systems are now re-aligned to sustainable packaging methods that are eco-friendly and from material easily recycled, Mr Abigaba explains.

Mr Galvan Kisolo Lule, the Principal at Bukalasa Agriculture College explains that sustainable agriculture aided by sustainable production; processing and marketing strategies are the lifeline for the modern farmer and the market place.

A heap of used plastic water bottles near a residential house in Nansana Town Council, Wakiso District.

Climate change is a critical subject that requires the attention of all stakeholders. At Bukalasa Agriculture College, we are obliged to equip the learners to positively contribute to making the farming World better through the different sustainable and management projects.

“Agro-processors should take advantage of the eco-friendly packaging training offered at Bukalasa Agriculture College but also available at different gazetted Agro-processing training. The College now offers outreach programs and short courses. We should all think about how to add value to our environment,” he says.

Walking the talk

While the demand for the recycled plastic products is increasingly gaining ground with manufacturers and importers pledging to incorporate recycled content into their respective products, the recycling rate remains very low. Littered polythene bags, plastic bottles at the different water bodies, open land among other areas continues to compromise the environment.

Recently, a certified soil scientist and expert Mr Ray Archuleta attached to the Soil Science Society of America while on a training programme in Uganda revealed that sections of the Ugandan soil are barren because of the careless nature of man.

“The soils are littered with polythene bags among other materials that denies the soils the right amount of air, water and many other nutrients. Farmers need to act now,” he told a farmer training program at Bethany Land Institute in Luweero District.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) estimates that at least 600 tonnes of plastic waste is generated annually in Uganda. The plastic material that includes the non –biodegradable polythene bags and plastic bottles form the bulk of the plastic waste generated.

It is also estimated that Kampala City generates about 150 tonnes of the plastic waste where an estimated 60 percent of the generated urban waste finds its way into the water bodies and the open land mass that contributes to the environment degradation.

Proponents of the eco-friendly packaging material believe that an informed and skilled agro-processing industrial players ranging from small, medium and large industries can lead an eco-friendly packaging revolution as part of the climate mitigation measures.


Environmentalists take on the interventions

Mr John Mary Mukooli, a Nutritionist and founder of My Soil my Wealth Uganda based in Wakiso District is concerned that despite the many policy guidelines reached at curbing the production limiting the production and usage of the plastic bags for packaging, the implementation stages have failed to take shape in Uganda.

“As we promote the Eco-friendly packaging not limited to agro- processors but for all other products that demand packaging, we should be reminding the government about its own policies that are yet to be implemented. The prohibited plastics and polythene bags are still manufactured in Uganda despite the ban announced more than 4-years ago,” he says.

Mukooli believes the regulation that banned the manufacture and use of all plastics that are less than 100 microns should be helping Uganda learn to adapt to the eco-friendly packaging. This should not be left to only the agro-processors but a duty of every responsible citizen in Uganda.

“We can use banana leaves, paper boxes and papers as alternative packaging material. We should be promoting the eco-friendly package material manufacturers in Uganda,” he says.