On a recent trip from northern Uganda, as we drove past trading centres just before Luweero town, I saw heaps and heaps of stuff covered by banana fibre and dry leaves. I had mistakenly thought these heaps to be of earth for making bricks. But I couldn’t see any kilns around. We soon stopped in a trading centre with many such heaps.
Teenagers quickly run to the car besieging us with as many of one of my favourite fruits — pineapples as their tiny hands could carry. I don’t remember the last time I wanted to buy anything where the sellers were the ones willingly reducing the price. Usually, the buyer haggles with the seller to bring the price down. This time, the sellers were on a mission to undercut each other.
That is when it dawned on me that the heaps of stuff covered with dry banana leaves and fibre were pineapples. We ended up buying basketfuls of pineapples with some going for as low as Shs300. I thought about the farmer who perhaps leased the land, cleared it, bought seedlings, fertilizers, did mulching and all the stuff. On top of that, they transported the pineapples from their gardens to the roadside where people could buy them for a song. How much did they make?
Some of these teenagers were willing to even cut some for us to eat to confirm that their pineapples taste as good as we expect. Ugandan pineapples are very sweet, some of the sweetest you will ever eat anywhere in the world. The president once said that he flies around the world with them to avoid eating tasteless ones common in 5-star hotels in the global capitals he visits.
How could we have some of the best pineapples in the world rotting on the roadside in 2021 when they could wow the international market? We sing about value addition all the time but we don’t walk the talk. If we added value to the pineapples, we wouldn’t be begging customers to buy them. Customers also worry about what they would do with the pineapples if they bought too many.
Candy, jam, ketchup, juice, and even alcohol are some of the products we can easily make from pineapples. I don’t think it is too difficult to make any of these products. Farmers can be mobilized to create a factory to add value. One group could buy a juice extractor while another could buy a boiler. Another group could invest in a packaging line. So you could easily have many groups involved in delivering a final product onto the market.
That way, the farmers wouldn’t have to suffer, begging customers to buy their produce. Less than 30 years ago, there was a pineapple factory in Masaka, which I believe gave farmers a better price for their sweat. If my memory serves me right, the factory belonged to Masaka Cooperative Union. Once the union collapsed, the company folded too. Masaka and Kayunga are the other areas where pineapples are grown.
But let us not focus on pineapples alone. Look at maize today. With Kenya temporarily banning maize from Uganda because of high levels of aflatoxins, maize farmers are going to look at their harvests in the same way a dog looks at money. Yet maize farmers can come together and buy small silos that can keep their maize safe until when the prices are good. They could also invest in maize mills and start packing the maize themselves. Each small group can easily buy one component of a mill.
Many farmers are in SACCOs where they save some money so they can save for production or value addition equipment. I travel regularly within the country and sometimes in some of the most rural areas. But in almost every village in this country where there is absolute poverty, there is always a shiny grandiose church or mosque.
The money used to build churches and mosques comes from actually these poor parishioners and their relatives in Kampala. Many times, the size of the church or mosque is bigger than the factory needed to transform the lives of a particular community. We can build churches and mosques but besides them, there should be factories of what is produced in that area.
Growing up in Masaka a few decades ago, in many trading centres existed coffee milling factories. They simply removed husks and packaged the coffee for export but they gave farmers better returns. This is possible again today whether one community grows pineapples, tomatoes, or maize.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org
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