hon. kasamba, meet safina namaganda and let’s make piles of sweet money out of jackfruit (fenne)


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One of numerous fenne trees at Rwenzori Bottling Company offices (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

IN November last year I shared a story here about a young lady called Safina Namaganda that got picked up in various places high and low. Thereafter I was summoned and asked for her contact details, which I shared variously.

Sadly, I can’t confirm that anything came of it.

I remembered her again this week during a lengthy, animated chat with newly-sworn East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Representative, Mathias Kasamba, of Kakuuto in Kyotera.

The EALA plenary had just officially opened session and we were taking a break nearby and talking through the opportunities we have in Uganda that his presence in Arusha and beyond would make a reality for his constituents – not just in Kakuuto, Kyotera, but across the entire country.

Kasamba is a straight-talking man; if you have never met him before and experienced his style of message delivery you could easily take offence at his sharp arrows but that won’t save you his marksmanship.

He is rightfully disdainful of very many people who are not doing what we should be doing – including political leaders who have no evidence of leadership beyond their titles; the so-called elite whose priorities make them little better than the ordinary peasants they look down upon; and the energetic youth whose energy does not show itself in anything that doesn’t involve betting shops, football on television, and social media activities.

Throughout the discussion, he kept going back to his pet topic, which I happen to have a keen interest in myself that has ensured it stays on my annual plan every year.

For as long as I can remember, Hon. Kasamba has been talking about planting trees. During the most heated parts of the 2015/16 political campaign period he found it quite normal to interrupt a hard discussion on political strategy with photographs and updates about how his tree seedlings were doing.

He is still the same, and within ten minutes of conversation he had whipped out two gadgets and was showing me photograph after photograph of trees, tree seedlings, and other agricultural projects he has pulled right out of the ground in his home in Kakuuto.

His consistency of messaging is admirable, and I was pleased to be the target that afternoon, as he pointed out the simple mathematics of agriculture that most of us who went to school and own second-hand motor vehicles in Kampala would be shamed to acknowledge.

The speed and confidence with which he reeled off the financials around the investments that go into various sizes of agricultural projects could bamboozle you if you are not prepared. And he went from coffee to mangoes, oranges and passion fruits with the smoothness of my favourite juice – the reason we were having the discussion in the first place.

When he segued into jackfruit (fenne) I offered him a mental standing ovation – and that is when Safina Namaganda returned to the story of life.

“People don’t know,” Hon. Kasamba said, “that if you have jackfruit you don’t need anything else!”

He had no idea he was onto one of my favourite fruits of all time, and I unleashed enthusiasm with my descriptions of its taste and recipe ideas, but he sensed – correctly – that I was underestimating the part of “you don’t need anything else!”

Hon. Kasamba detailed how every part of the fenne fruit is edible – which I agreed with and shared my own anecdotes of eating roasted seeds as a child and feeding the rind to visibly pleased farm animals. But he went further; for him the fenne tree can easily provide an income that stretches into the millions of shillings every year because the trees fruit so well regardless of when and where you plant them.

And, he explained, they don’t get cut down for decades and decades but still keep fruiting. And, most of all, provided he has them dotted all over his farm the farm workers don’t ever go hungry and stall – they gorge themselves on it and maintain high energy levels all through!

Every seed they drop, meanwhile, will give you a seedling if you plant it just days after eating the fruit. I do this often myself, and was about to boast to him that I have developed almost a hundred seedlings this way when he told him his number.

He has 10,000 (ten thousand) jackfruit/fenne seedlings ready to plant. And he is not joking about this. Even as we chatted, he texted me YouTube video links and articles about the benefits of the jackfruit/fenne.

He was amazing!

I took a very low mental bow out of that aspect of the conversation, and put myself in line for a few free seedlings from him as a point of honourable concession.

But not before offering to introduce him to Safina Namaganda; if you recall her story, that was the young lady who did a study into the nutritional values of fenne seeds and created a mixture of fenne seeds and soy that was quite popular but did not get sufficient support to sustain the project – including a consistent supply of seeds.

My fingers are crossed that one day she will have a factory established in Kakuuto, running in partnership with Hon. Kasamba’s farm and producing various branded products made out of fenne – juices, purees, canned fruit, roasted seeds, powdered forms, animal feeds…the works!

meet safina namaganda – how our youth end up in tears, and how to stop this being the usual story


A COUPLE of weeks ago I met a young lady and after two hours of close interaction left her in tears.

Her name is Safina Namaganda, and I haven’t stopped mentally saluting her daily while hoping we raise more young Ugandans like her but without letting them fall back down again – as happened to her.

Safina came to me by way of a friend, James Wire Lunghabo, who did Agricultural Sciences at the University at the same time as I did Journalism, then became an ICT Entrepreneur of note and now does almost as much journalism as I do, while mentoring many Ugandan youth along the way and doing some serious farming and agricultural value addition.

One day during a casual conversation he mentioned a young lady whose bright future in agricultural value addition and processing kept coming to sudden ends because of the usual frustrations we hear youth in Uganda expressing – financing, corruption, inefficiency, bureaucracy…the list runs on and on. 

Her last venture was a fruit juice business enterprise that was promised government funding from as high as ‘State House’ but the persons involved made such awkward noises that she gave up on it. Meanwhile, Lunghabo told me, another guy who went into the same business now has his products on supermarket shelves and employs about 30 people at his factory in Nansana who earned Ushs80million last year alone (his second in business). That success story, Lunghabo said, is even exporting products to Rwanda and Kenya!

“If she had gotten the funding without those (insert bad word here) approaches from that government official, she would also be employing possibly another 30!” he declared. 

He vehemently brushed away any queries about the girl herself probably being at fault and then offered to set up the meeting so we agreed to buy her coffee in Kisementi and she turned up with a friend.

She told me her story starting with her University days when, as a student, she took an interest in jackfruit (fenne) and particularly its seeds. I remembered vaguely that as a child I had tasted roasted jackfruit seeds at various points and liked them quite some.

Her method was even more serious – she found a way of enriching the seeds with soya and spent time studying the chemical properties of the jackfruit and its seed, and tried to add value to the arrangement. Her University project was titled, “Physical Chemical Properties of Jackfruit Soybean Flour”.

She got the stage of actually making the flour and turned it into a porridge mix and started selling it as a University Student. At first, she got the seeds free of charge from fenne dealers in Kampala markets, but when they saw how interested she was they started charging her Ushs1,000 per kilo. She paid the money, made porridge, and sold it. When fenne was out of season, she suffered, but she went on for a while regardless.

Academically, she went on as well, and was supervised by Dr. Hadijah Nansikombi who appreciated her project. More to that, though – in 2010 she became Guild President at the Islamic University in Uganda (I didn’t double check that) and on one of the President’s visits there she told him about her project and he took up a keen interest in it. He offered her a State House scholarship and she happily accepted it (who wouldn’t?).

It couldn’t last without funding and lots of other support, and along the way Safina picked an interest in bananas – particularly the ‘Musa’ species (embidde). Her parents had the variety at home and she knew how to make the juice traditionally, and had seen through her childhood how popular that banana juice was.

“My interest had always been to employ myself, so I thought this would be a good idea. People used to always enjoy drinking the juice so I knew it would have market. My father used to tell me, as a child, to always work towards employing myself rather than being employed. He had only ever had one job and after that decided to employ himself – which he is doing till now,” she says, wistfully.

She is unhappily employed now, because her dreams didn’t last long enough – but she will go back.

She started making the juice and packing it in those see-through buveera, going door-to-door and selling the packs at a neat profit to eager, thirsty, nostalgic consumers.

It did quite well, which wasn’t surprising because she was a student of Food, Science and Technology, a course her father approved of because it would help her achieve self-employment. He, himself, is an Engineer, Haji Mohammed Katongole, and owns a foundry at Mawakato Technical Services, in Najjanankumbi. He insisted, she says, on all his children aiming at self-employment and studying relevant courses to achieve it.

When her door-to-door approach proved popular she decided to go bigger. She met up with a friend, Mahmoud, who was good at production and would ensure they had a quality mbidde product with no added water or sugar, and they went to the Consortium of Enhancing Responsiveness in Agricultural Development (CURAD) for funding. With Ushs3.9million (which they are about to finally pay off, thanks to her current employment which she took up in order to clear the loan when the business met a technical hurdle) they bought equipment and packaged the mbidde in 320ml bottles from a factory in Matugga and went to market.

They did well for a while, and even took part in our biggest Expos here. Her goal, while doing so, was to achieve the Uganda National Bureau of Standards Quality mark…but they couldn’t get there before they got stopped.

Along the way, though, she had met the President again and told him about her new venture – and again he offered support, to get machinery, premises and working capital of about Ushs2billion. For months, they chased that offer while working out of home to pack the juice but it didn’t come to fruit before the authorities understandably told them to stop the domestic production. In April this year someone called Musa contacted them with the offer of helping to pursue the offer if they could cover the costs of Ushs5million – which, obviously, they could not.

Shortly after that, they dropped the business and she went back to work so she could pay off the CURAD loan, while Mahmoud did the same – at a car bond.

I found it admirable that she was committed to clearing the loan for the entry-level equipment they had installed and were using, and sad that she had to drop this locally-made banana juice that could have been employing a few more of her peers, while supporting a couple more businesses such as the bottle manufacturer they bought their materials from; sadder still that they put their entrepreneurial resourcefulness aside to do fairly mundane work.

The actual funding support they need is to set up premises that will pass muster and to get the right machine to squeeze the juice out of the bananas, which is much less than Ushs2billion – but they can’t find that even though many of us spend our millions buying up Range Rovers and very many bottles of tasty whisky every weekend.

Safina and her partner even went to her father and to Musa Body and to the Tamales to get someone to make the right machine but they couldn’t do it – not yet. 

The reason she had tears in her eyes by the time our conversation ended was because she couldn’t believe ANYONE would listen to her entire story and not ask for money…and even pay for her tea while at it, giving her hope that there was a light ahead of this tunnel that she finds herself in.

uganda: let’s delete the word ‘potential’ from our national dictionary


ON Wednesday morning I jumped out of bed as a rainstorm raged on outside trying to make it difficult for the lazy-minded to leave their beds.
I could have done with a few extra minutes of sleep that morning but the night before I had said something on a radio talk show about how unjustified it was for most of us to sleep at all, given the amount of work we needed to do to develop Uganda.
The thought that someone could call me out for spending longer in bed than I had publicly said was necessary drove me to my desk, so I was watching the storm through the window over the top of my computer as I made my day’s plan, thinking how happy the farming community must be about this weather change.
Only three people these past two weeks have spoken to me about the rains having started: My primary farming advisor (who is also my loving mother) , reminding me to make the necessary adjustments; my regular supplier of tree seedlings (@GreeningUganda), making a pitch for increased sales as per our standing arrangements; and the third, a friend’s highly energetic domestic employee, in a conversation.
This robust domestic employee, at a lunch party over the weekend, had me helping him move garden furniture because it was threatening to rain. “But are you sure it’s going to rain?” I asked him, to which he responded with a vigorously confident, “The rainy season has started. It will rain.”
The confidence with which he spoke stayed on my mind all through the sumptuous luncheon, and I thought to myself that this domestic worker must have had an agricultural background – like many of us do.
The neat, sprawling gardens in which we lunched were beautiful and vivid in colour and variety, and seeing this domestic employee flit about to and fro in the foreground of the floral compound made me wonder whether, with his knowledge of agriculture and vast amounts of energy, he would be using the rainy season to grow any crops, herbs, or spices for future luncheons to be had.
The potential of it all, I thought to myself, was massive!
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Immediately, I mentally slapped myself round the back of my head. ‘Potential’. I am a little fed up of that word, in our context.
It means, my dictionary says, “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future; and latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.
 
An hour or so later, I read an article that underscored why I dislike that word so much these days.
 
Uganda has potential to feed 200 million people – US envoy’, read the headline, followed by: “Uganda’s fertile agricultural land produces a wide range of food products and has the potential to feed 200 million people in the region and beyond,” said (Deborah) Malac.
This figure of 200 million was published by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations in August this year, and we have had tens of thousands other declarations of ‘Potential’ around Uganda.
We need to delete the word Potential from our national dictionary as soon as possible. If we don’t then we’re going to stay stuck at this Potentiality forever and ever.
Why does it irritate me?
Because we never seem to leave the Potential box and keep making headlines out of it instead of, ‘Uganda land deal boost for Centum’, as reported this week about Kenyan investors Centum buying up 14,000 acres of land in Uganda to grow maize and soya beans.
Those Kenyans are not dealing with just ‘Potential’ any more. Back in February 2011, a Centum official talked to a Ugandan newspaper about the Potential in Uganda, and today they are putting money onto the ground.
On the same day the newspapers were talking about that ‘Potential’ to feed 200 million people, I saw a news snippet about food relief being taken to the Kigezi region (for people affected by floods, not hunger) and sighed.
At that point, certain we won’t delete the word ‘Potential’ from our vocabularies soon, I stopped fretting over its existence.
Instead, I picked up my phone and contacted the friend who had hosted me to lunch over the weekend, to advise him to get his energetic domestic fellow to take advantage of the rainy season and plant some food-related things somewhere in the massive space surrounding his beautiful house now that the rains have started.

we shall be known by our fruits, grown from the seeds we normally throw away


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Photo by Simon Kaheru

Having finished a particularly juicy mango some time in December I dilly dallied with the seed even after using my teeth to scrape off all the flesh.

This wasn’t the usual type of string-filled mangoes that agitate me into bursting through my toothpick and dental floss budget.

The mango I had gormandised was the old-school type we used to find everywhere from Kampala through Kyaggwe to Hoima when I was a child. That big variety that didn’t become soft to tell you it was ripe, but when you bit through the tough skin your teeth found the flesh to be hard yet very pleasantly sweet.

The nostalgic feeling it brought me made me hang on to the seed for a few hours, on a saucer at my window sill as I worked the computer (hands all washed). I kept glancing at it thinking about how much I would happily eat one every hour were it not for the sweetness overkill.

This particular mango had come, with a few others, from a visit to a loved one in Ntinda right here in Kampala. During our afternoon chat we noticed that the tree, which had stood there many years, had finally offered up a respectable number of fruits with almost no effort besides patience.

My replenishment plan would involve a few more visits, but that wouldn’t keep me in the endless supply of said mangoes that I craved at that point. Mulling over the problem a little longer, I realised that the drying seed on the saucer next to me was the solution right there.

I have planted many mango trees over the last couple of years, planning to establish a constant supply for my domestic consumption as well as some light commerce in years to come.

Our family consumes so many mangoes, in our small set of homes, that if one of us became a supplier then we would have a cheaper source and also run a mini operation wealth creation.

All those trees came from seedlings purchased at a fair sum but topped off with transportation costs then made bigger by the bulk I have to purchase each time.

The internet, always useful for such purposes, told me quite clearly how to convert my drying seed into a seedling – which my seedling suppliers will not be excited to learn. The internet, being mostly written in climates that are not as friendly and blessed as tropical Uganda, included bits in their processes that made me realise how many more trees I would have grown by now if I had started thinking properly much earlier.

I immediately made a resolution to convert as many fruit seeds as I encounter this year into seedlings with as little fuss as possible. At some point last year I discovered the Butternut Squash, a relative of the ordinary pumpkin, and contrived some recipes so bewitching that I started thinking about the Squash in my spare time.

The problem was that each one cost about Ushs5,000 in regular supermarkets. One day I put the seeds aside, after cutting a Squash open, and planted them one by one in small cups of soil. A couple of weeks later they had germinated and I am now trying to grow my own butternut squash in various places instead of spending Ushs5,000 each in a supermarket.

With the fruit project, it has been three months of regularly consuming avocadoes, mangoes and fenne (jackfruit), allowing the seeds to dry out, then planting them in small cans and bottles. I have been largely successful – more with the fenne and avocado than the mangoes, but successful all the same, to a notable extent. Even the chillis, onions and tomatoes have sprouted something.

While I wait for the experts to tell me how fruitful the seedlings will be when they grow, I recall that six years ago I devised a scheme that should have led me to this point much earlier were it not for an insufficient infusion of lugezi gezi amongst my domestic staff.

At that time, I established a garbage separation system so we could collect our organic waste and use it to create compost, while disposing of the plastic, paper and other waste through the garbage collection companies. It worked for only a short while, after which the people tasked with implementation couldn’t be bothered and the Manager (myself) lost focus on the trees because of the forest.

I am returning my focus to the trees henceforth, and resuming garbage separation as part of my mini operation wealth creation project.

My success shall be shown by my fruits, as the Good Book says in Matthew.

we all need to take these avian bird flu warnings seriously


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I SPEND most of my mornings seated at a window where a vast number of birds of various species and sizes flitter past or stop and tap against the glass. We have a running joke that some of those birds are carrying messages from our dearly departed living in another world .

Because I have so many birds within close proximity, I took the Avian Bird Flu warnings this week pretty seriously. A friend of mine confessed that the day before the first warning she had picked up a dead bird herself, as she lives in an even busier bird corridor.

Uganda has about 1,078 species of birds (34 of which are threatened) making us a premium destination for birding, as these are more than half the number of species recorded globally. Some statistics also have it that the record for the number of species recorded in one week in a three week period is 665 – seen in Uganda.

Our poultry industry is thriving (not just because of the Rolex) though the best statistics I could find were from the UBOS (Uganda Bureau of Statistics) 2010 Report that estimated our national chicken population at 34.7million birds. A cursory check of the 2014 National Population and Housing Census finds no mention of the words ‘poultry’, ‘chicken’ or ‘bird(s)’. The word ‘Livestock’ appears only four (4) times.

The National Livestock Census Report of 2009, though, says 4.5million households rear at least one kind of livestock or poultry. By 2008 we had a national chicken flock of 32.8million birds.

And an IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) report of 2013 estimated that the value of poultry production in Uganda in 2009 was Ushs89billion. (This report also complains about lack of statistics).

So considering that Avian Bird Flu affects chicken as well as wild birds, we should not take this disease outbreak lightly. But we must not panic in our approach.

When it first appeared back in 2005 the Avian Bird Flu was devastating in Asia, and it showed up again in 2014 in the United States with alarming effects. I read somewhere once that across Asia fewer than 500 people died from having the disease, so that’s not the biggest problem – it is the economic death that is more worrying.

In the US by July 2015 (six months) about 26 million chickens and turkeys had died or been killed to keep the disease from spreading. But the US produces 9 billion chickens for meat, 360 million for eggs, and 240 million turkeys.

We cannot afford to lose such numbers.

In May 2015 the United States released US$330million in emergency funds to tackle the disease, on top of US$99million already spent on the disease when it broke out in 2014. They even deployed the National Guard to help with the efforts.

Asia’s 2005 crisis was feared to cost the affected economies between US$99billion and US$283billion off their GDP.

We certainly cannot command such amounts today.

Those economies are much more organised and focused most times, so we need to really pay attention and think like them now in some respects, while doing what we do best.

That doesn’t mean we are doing nothing – and I was happy to hear from the Director General of Health Services, Prof. Anthony Mbonye, that the government had put together an inter-ministerial task force under the Prime Minister’s office (though the Ministry Website had not been updated by January 18, 2017 with this issue). They are working with the same tenacity that has made Uganda globally famous for handling Ebola and other serious pandemics here and as far out as West Africa.

But obviously we need to do more – you and I, as well as the government.

Again, do not panic. In one of my WhatsApp groups some people swore off chicken entirely. Unless you eat unhygienic chicken, please remain calm but be cautious and health-conscious.

Then, let’s think and plan every step of this carefully – including our communication. Our first communication targets should be the people on the frontline of poultry production – farmers (including domestic, subsistence ones) and processors alike. To reach them, we must know who they are – hence the need for serious statistics and information.

Every district should pull out the stops at collecting data on where all our domestic birds are and who is raising them. When we get to the point where poultry have to be killed to stop the disease spreading, there will be a need for compensation – we all know why records are important there.

Now is the time to take all statistics seriously and keep them up to date henceforth. I’ve seen a US Department of Agriculture file on the internet that details every case of the disease along with the individual bird that died – we should have the same from two weeks ago when this crisis began.

And thereafter, let’s put our information up onto the internet so that we give the world even more confidence in our capabilities at handling these disasters; we will have a good story to tell so let’s tell it louder than the disaster announcement.

This Avian Bird Flu is not as bad as Ebola, so we will get past it for sure – but this time let’s do so in a manner that INCREASES our profile so we get more opportunities come our way while not putting our existing ones at risk.