Shalin 2015


Enterprise and Innovation in Agriculture: Making banana value chain create wealth and jobs for youth

Enterprise and Innovation in Agriculture: Making banana value chain create wealth and jobs for youth
09 Feb 2016

 

We have now been in Uganda for the last 3 months. Some of you may know that Uganda is the second highest producer of bananas in the world. The bananas are mainly produced in western and central regions of the country, both as cash and food crop.

Banana_trees

Banana constitutes a major characteristic of this place, and even more so in Mbarara, where we are currently staying. Mbarara is the capital of the Western region and the fastest growing town in Uganda. Thanks to its location, the growth and expansion has been fueled by its being connected by main roads to Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. The town aspires to be granted a city status, and its development and modernization has been improving since the 2000’s. There is growing infrastructure such as hospitals, hotels and malls.

Mbarara is also endowed with several universities, where the Mbarara University of Science & Technologies (MUST), has become a breeding-ground for skilled and talented youth. It is a moving place to stay even though many still have to be steered. Moreover, it is also a strategic place to move around in Uganda. From Mbarara, within 4 hours or less, one can have the joy of visiting Lake Mburo National Park, the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria, and we are planning to go through the West soon, exploring the paths of the Pearl of Africa and maybe heading to gorilla mountains which is just about a few hours drive (200 kms) from Mbarara.

Relaxing in the wonderful Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria

Relaxing on the wonderful Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria

The scenery and landscape is shaped by banana trees, the huge leaves form part of the undulating shades of green covering the rolling hills and valleys. Daily huge trucks transport bunches of bananas. Countless men hit the roads with bicycles piled high with bunches of bananas balanced on each side, completely hiding the rider from view at times. The constant supply is vital for trade, every small shop always have bananas to sell: green, yellow, plenty of different sizes, the leaves as well can often be purchased.

Bunches of bananas along the road in Mbarara

Bunches of bananas along the road in Mbarara

It is an occupation, it employs lots of women, who can be spotted cooking on side of the dirt roads, peeling, boiling and smashing cooking bananas, here known as matooke. Cooked in big pots, they sell these meals during the day. Matooke are served entire, cooked in some sauce for the traditional breakfast dish called katogo. For lunch and dinner, they are smashed and associated as a side for meat gravy or vegetables sauce.

Uganda is a leading consumer of bananas in the world! We have adopted it to a certain extent and consume it almost every day, and often several times a day, be it from the matooke served at work for lunch, or raw yellow banana or crafted with some personal recipes. My favorite breakfast is indeed made of oat porridge mixed with smashed sweet bananas and locally-made groundnut butter (Asta, I will never thank you enough for this!). Moreover, some snacks like banana crisps or banana pancakes can be found from some retailers. And the last but not the least, wine is also made from banana…

Despite this abundance of raw material, the sector remains quite inefficient in terms of employment creation and livelihood improvement. Banana’s marketing remains weak and limited to few options while the sector is poorly organized. Therefore the prices are low and the benefits to the farmers and different actors involved as well. This is why Excel Hort Consult, the company we are now collaborating with (as indicated in the previous post), has decided to strategically invest in this opportunity to develop new products from this staple food to shape in an alternative way the future of agricultural ventures.

Many stakeholders are involved with the objective to increase productivity and yields, but one of the biggest challenges is to create value addition at each stage of the value chain. Globally agribusiness accounts for 78% of value-added in the value chain but in Africa it represents only 38% of it: this is a great opportunity to transform youth enterprises and create jobs.

To create value addition is a mindset. EHC, a Ugandan company working in eastern and central Africa and concentrated on developing agribusiness by promoting value chain development, has developed a model to address all the challenges of value addition with a focus on jobs and wealth creation. In order to increase products’ values, better penetrate markets, raise revenues and create jobs as well as wealth, a strategic opportunity to seize relies on processing the primary commodities. While 98% of agricultural production in developed countries undergoes industrial processing, in Africa less than 30% is processed. Thus EHC constitutes a key example regarding value addition on banana and especially cooking banana.

Banana_trees_2

The key point of adding value is innovation. Create something new, not easily available, which will tickle the taste and open new perspectives. For instance, EHC commercializes banana juice from the matooke, under the brand Exelas. From a common and over-supplied commodity, the company now offers an organic, healthy, locally-made and appreciated juice for the population.

Children enjoying Exelas banana juice

Children enjoying Exelas banana juice

 

Because working on improving the value chain involves a whole system, the aim is to target the best and the most business oriented methods at each step of the chain. Thus the producers of matooke benefit from their collaboration with EHC because the company also provides support regarding their technical skills and production methods. Then, all the transformation process is optimized. Still regarding the banana, during the process to make juice, many elements of the fruit are not used but nonetheless, these wastes are still valuable. Aware of this fact, EHC has developed recipes out of it to produce pancakes and cookies. The other waste, the banana peels, can be used to create non-edible products, such as fibres, consumable briquettes, animal feeds, etc. Some of these products are actually already developed by one of EHC’s partner, AfriBanana Products Ltd. Even edible products can be processed from the wastes, and Anna-Kaisa and I are currently developing some plans to explore these opportunities.

Adding value through strategic innovation means being keen on spotting the different resources within one unique primary commodity and revealing the unseen potentials in order to make them productive.

A sustainable and competitive business must keep innovating: opportunities are enormous and have to be strategically targeted regarding the market, the local context as well as the global trends and perspectives. Chances have to be streamed from the collaboration between science and technology with the actual agribusiness outputs. Improving the variety and the quality of the products developed from the locally grown commodities through innovative processing is a relevant way to bring new products to the market whose conception contribute to create employment and improve communities’ livelihoods.

The agricultural system in Uganda would bloom from new and audacious ventures, driven by contextualized and enlightened strategies aiming to boost the sector to enable opportunities and benefits to thrive. Supporting value addition innovation and agribusiness mindset among the youth is precisely one of our objective of this collaboration with EHC, and we will let you know more about it in our next post, dealing with our commitment beside the Mbarara Youth Entrepreneurs Club.

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Elsa

I am Elsa Guéneau, from France. After having studied history and political sciences, I am concluding my Professional Master’s Degree in International Humanitarian Action & NGOs with this internship at Shalin. I am actually interested in capacity building projects, in particular about natural resources management and sustainable agriculture. I am currently in Tanzania to support the SkillsFAST project within Vikuruti Farm, especially through the development of a business plan exploring various possibilities and the coordination between the various partners. This is a great opportunity to understand and take part in a real project implementation process and thus increasing my professional skills on managing it in the reality of the field, improving my technical knowledge about environmental, economic and social sustainability in agriculture, as well as it is a significant inspiring and humane adventure.

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