By Samuel Sanya, Sebidde Kiryowa & Andrew Masinde
Uganda largely depends on agriculture, but most of the entrepreneurs in this area limit themselves to elementary trading in agricultural produce.
Sadly, a lot of our budding entrepreneurs, who would wish to venture into value addition are often constrained by the large capital requirements and lack of scientific research required in the setting up of these agro-processing industries.
Our supermarkets are full of processed foods from abroad, extracted from foods grown and exported from here.
But there is a way out. Most Ugandans have never heard of the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI). Those who have do not know what the institute does.
New Vision visited the institute at their premises in Nakawa, Kampala, and talked to Prof. Charles Kwesiga, the man at the helm of UIRI, to find out just what the institute has in store for Uganda’s entrepreneurs.
He narrowly survived the hangman’s noose in Uganda and while Prof. Charles Kwesiga could have remained in the comfort of the US state of Ohio, destiny called him back home.
Prof. Kwesiga, the executive director, Uganda Industrial Research Institute is spearheading the transformation
A new dawn is coming to Uganda’s industrial sector and there could not have been anybody better to deliver it than the Bundibugyo-born industrial engineer.
Indeed Kwesiga has transformed the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) into a world class research facility and it was recently elected to the World Association of Industrial and Technological Research Organisations (WAITRO).
“I came back because President Yoweri Museveni had shown interest in my professional abilities. It was then that I realised I still could make a contribution to my country. That made me quickly rethink all my options,” says Prof. Kwesiga.
Prof. Charles Kwesiga was born in Katiba village, 48km east of Bundibugyo and 240km west of Kampala in the mid-1950s.
By the time Uganda was declared an independent nation, the young Kwesiga was at Ntare School, completing his O’ level.
“Three friends and I were part of a pioneer group of students that sat for national O’ level exam while in Senior Three in 1966. Luckily, we excelled although we had skipped Senior Four,” he says.
After he was through with his Advanced level exams, a career in the security forces quickly beckoned and Kwesiga, who was 20 years old, was sent for training in Russia during the Milton Obote I regime.
“The offer was just too good to turn down,” he says.
Escape from the hangman’s noose
As fate would have it, the Obote I regime came to a sudden end when then army commander, Idi Amin, staged a military coup and several security men were arrested.
“I was arrested in 1971 and incarcerated for over 10 months for no reason,” Kwesiga says.
“We were 673 people in prison, but only 64 survived. It was a life changing experience. As one of the survivors, I kept wondering ‘Why me?’ but my parents always told me: ‘God saved you for a reason.’ That was a powerful statement and I am still pursuing that reason,” Kwesiga says.
Soon after his release from prison, Kwesiga, who was then 23 years old, escaped to Kenya where he did odd jobs before getting married. He eventually joined the now defunct East African Civil Aviation Authority as an engineer.
Leaving for America
Five years after he had settled in Nairobi, Kenya, but I refused to come back because I had been in jail under Idi Amin’s regime. Shortly after, the Israelis attacked Entebbe Airport and all my colleagues died during that raid,” he says.
“A friend also said: ‘You still have a head on your shoulders, go back to school.’ So when the opportunity of a scholarship knocked at my door, I took it and life has never been the same,” Kwesiga says.
Prof. Kwesiga with some of the entrepreneurs that work with UIRI
He quickly made progress in the US, acquiring a degree in industrial engineering and later getting a job as an analyst in a corporate entity in Ohio in 1984.
Kwesiga then moved up the ladder, becoming a director of corporate internal performance at a factory in Ohio, a joint venture with close friends in 1986.
“I later left the company to concentrate on teaching and start a private business. I made so much progress that by 1994, I was able to invite my parents to see the good life I was living,” he says.
“In May 2002, I met President Yoweri Museveni who was on official visit in Washington DC and he invited me to come back and help my country with my experience in industrial work.
“We had been communicating since 1986, but I decided to close shop in Ohio and come home in 2002. It was a tough decision to make because my family was used to living a comfortable lifestyle in the US,” Kwesiga says.
He adds that since his youngest child had already started college, and that his mother had died two years back, he was motivated to return and watch over his father’s welfare.
Rejuvenating the Uganda industrial growth
“When I took this job in 2003, I found the facility (UIRI offices) in ruins and renovated it,” Kwesiga explains. “We have moved from obsolete machines to modern ones and our infrastructure is much better. Uganda’s appointment to the World Association of Industrial Research Organisations points to a positive future,” he says.
As executive director, Kwesiga has spearheaded a rebirth in the Uganda Industrial Research Institute, refurbishing its infrastructure and opening up a robust industrial incubation centre that houses over 30 Ugandan industrial entrepreneurs.
The institute’s core activities focus on promoting value addition, research for product development and design, acquiring appropriate technologies for an effective and competitive industrial sector and bridging the gap between the academia and the Government as well as the private sector.
Under Kwesiga’s leadership, UIRI has acquired a global status as the centre of excellence for food nutrient analysis in east, central and southern Africa overseeing the activities of 23 other food science and technology laboratories all over Africa.
He, however, laments a lack of specialisation in Uganda’s Agricultural sector saying it has slowed the pace of industrialisation.
“Farmers should focus on increasing production and let the entrepreneurs, handle the value addition and marketing,” he says.
In his free time
Outside office work, Kwesiga says he enjoys solving complex Sudoku puzzles, interacting with friends and reading.
“I like to keep myself busy even when I am not working. I liked sciences right from Senior One, but I also liked reading William Shakespeare’s books.
“I read myself to sleep and reading is the first thing I do when I wake up. My favourite magazine is The Economist.
UIRI paves the way to industrial and entrepreneurial progress
Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) is the Government’s lead agency for industrialisation. It is the major means through which the country will industrialise.
Prudence Ukkonika displays Bella Wine, her flagship brand. She is a UIRI virtual incubatee
The institute was established in 2000 by an Act of Parliament under the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives. This followed the collapse of the East African Research Services Organization (EARSO) in 1977.
To carry out applied research and develop technology to create a strong, effective and competitive industrial sector in Uganda.
It was set up with a view to improving the ability of Ugandan entrepreneurs to take undertake viable industrial production processes. UIRI has the task of increasing entrepreneurs’ ability to produce highquality and products that can find market.
This it does through scientific research, training of entrepreneurs and passing on of technical know-how to the business community.
How UIRI is working with local entrepreneurs
All businesses whether startups or existing require some form of help at its different stages. This kind of help may be in form of guidance in the process of generating a winning business idea, researching that idea.
It could be in form of business planning, strategic development, records management or adopting information communications technology as a tool to develop business.
Sometimes help needed may be in form of training in business and ICT skills.
Denis Dokoria, UIRI’s communications and marketing manager, says UIRI’s Business Development Centre (BDC) offers this to selected target groups in order to facilitate industrialisation in Uganda.
Christine Kamusiime, a research technician at UIRI makes ceramics in the product development department
“The target groups for the services on offer at UIRI’s BDC include people in Industry — a group of businesses that provide a particular product or service whether at a startup, small or medium enterprise level; people or businesses under incubation at UIRI and the general public,” he says.
Prof. Charles Kwesiga, the institute’s executive director, says UIRI, Uganda’s sole industrial research institute is open to Ugandans with enterprising ideas in the industrial sector by providing them with vital technical know-how, industrial research data, space and mentorship o that they can reach their full potential.
“Basically what happens is that we develop technology in an area of production or value addition. The idea could be an entrepreneur’s or ours. If it ours, we then proceed to open up to interested entrepreneurs. Either way, they are required to apply and undergo our incubation process where we train them as well as give them the required facilities,” says Dokoria.
“From that point, they start a pilot project through which they can produce commercially on site. It is from the pilot that they can go out into full scale industrial production.”
Today, the institute’s Incubation Centre is teeming with activity and hosts over 30 budding entrepreneurs involved in the production of toothpicks, jams, juices and concentrates, beef products, bamboo based garments, confectioneries, milk-based products and ceramics, among others.
In conjunction with various other entrepreneurs, UIRI has established a number of value-addition projects throughout the countryside such as Mushroom Training Resource Centre (MTRC).
Located in Kabale, where mushrooms are predominantly grown, the centre’s activities involve growing and processing of mushrooms in the three districts of Kabale, Kisoro and Kanungu.
The facility will be fully-equipped to provide training services in mushroom growing and technology.
Others include peanut processing in Lira, potato processing (crisps) in Kabale, fruit juice and meat products in Mpigi and Arua, among others.
These facilities act as centres of rural industrialisation by providing markets for farmers and ensuring that high value organic products are put on the market.
Special projects office
According to Denis Dokoria, UIRI’s communications and marketing manager, this office is the starting point for most of the projects handled at UIRI.
The Special Projects office supports new enterprises and strengthens existing ones in Uganda through technology business incubation, capacity building programmes/activities, consultancies and carrying out of various business researches.
Kisakye Tabule, a machinist, at work in the mechanical engineering department at UIRI
This it does through technology business incubation, capacity building programmes and activities, enterprise or business-related research and consultancy services.
According to Dokoria, the Special Projects office strives to accelerate the rate of growth of business and micro enterprises.
It also increases awareness of business ownership as a means of financial self-sufficiency. It also stives to transfer technologies from universities and major corporations to the region.
“The office conducts on-going research activities to promote enterprise growth and success. It is also expected to initiate and coordinate activities aimed at strengthening the technological capabilities of small/start up enterprises.
These are aimed at ensuring that the enterprises have access to relevant technology through community outreach programmes, workshops and seminars, lectures and talks through television or radio talk shows,” Dokoria says.
The office offers a range of consultancy services including how to generate business ideas, innovations and technology development, business planning, management, product development, market analysis, technology evaluation and business computing.
It gives advice on market research and sales strategy development, client relations and management, among other services.
The office has strengthened incubator capability and set up an Industrial Resource Centre. It has also successfully equipped the ICT training centre with more terminals, setting up a desktop publishing unit and delivered trainings and consultancies to more than 40 different groups of entrepreneurs.
How to enroll in the Business Development Centre (BDC)
To participate, submit a letter to UIRI reception or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enterprise Management: The on-going projects
Uganda produces Newcastle disease vaccine
Newcastle disease is one of the most significant constraints in rearing chicken in sub-Saharan Africa. Newcastle disease is 100% fatal in chicks and 60- 90% fatal in adult chickens.
Controlling Newcastle disease at household level has been documented to be the most cost-effective strategy for uplifting the incomes and livelihoods of rural households. The currently available commercial vaccines require a cold chain for transportation, which makes them unsuitable for delivery to rural households and communities.
In order to tackle this problem, Brentec Vaccines Limited, which is one of the business incubatees at Uganda Industrial Research Institute, has set up a vaccine production facility that has been certified by the National Drug Authority.
This facility has the capacity to produce between 100 and 150 million doses of I-2 thermo stable Newcastle disease vaccine.
This vaccine has been tested in the region, and gives excellent protection in freerange chickens. It is suitable for delivery to rural households without the constraints of a cold chain thereby catering for the rural poultry production.
Uganda accounts for over 80% of chicken production in the region. In addition, Brentec Vaccines is testing a system for delivering the vaccination to rural households using community-based vaccinators.
This is likely to be the most cost-effective means of administering the vaccine.
Fruit juice processing
The fruits and vegetables section is key in helping UIRI fulfil its mandate of value addition to local products.
This involves processing fruits and vegetables to make a number of products such as juices, jams, sauces, pickles, nectars, wine, starch, dried fruit and vegetable products.
The department offers a number of services to the public which include; training, advisory, identification and sourcing of processing equipment.
Research is conducted to formulate new products from fruits and vegetables.
Prospective entrepreneurs are trained in various aspects of fruit and vegetable processing. These include processing and preservation, quality control, product development and agro-processing business management. Under this department, UIRI incubation centre has produced top class manufacturers; among them Derekorp.
Derekorp Limited is an innovative agribusiness engaged in value addition to fruits and vegetables under the brand name JustJoy.
The company was founded by Derek Kwesiga, who has returned to Uganda with 15 years’ experience as a chef in the US.
In December 2009, he won the EMRC-AfDB Project Incubator Award worth sh40m at the Africa Finance and Investment Forum 2009 held in Amsterdam Holland.
The prize money has enabled Derekorp start an aseptic packaging line for fruit juice, making it possible to export top quality products, opening new markets and creating opportunities for growth.
Other entrepreneurs include Bukonzo Mixed Farmers, Arjedra Farm Supplies, Kasaka Mothers Union and Itojo Fruit Growers.
Skin Care Products
Amagara Skin Care Products is a company that makes lotions, body butter, hand washes and shower gels from 100% natural extracts like fruits, vegetables and other plant materials that are all sourced from Ugandan farmers.
These include shea butter, avocado oil, cucumbers, carrots, vanilla, pawpaws, honey, pineapples, passion fruits, watermelons and lemons.
The company, which is a pilot project and is currently housed at UIRI’s headquarters in Nakawa started with the help of UIRI.
Joanita Orishaba, a research scientist, works on a sample in the food laboratory at the institute
“We worked with their scientists from the stage of developing the idea. We then went ahead to use their bench reactor. We are working hand-in-hand with their scientists all the way and, if the market allows, we will soon leave their facility and set up our own industry,” says Markson Turinzirwe, one of the directors of the company.
Who needs polythene bags? Oribags lnnovations (U) LTD, a local company that recycles agricultural waste, waste paper and natural fibres into ecobags and other environmentally friendly products, now utilises UIRI technology to make durable handmade paper products out of banana fibre, sisal, asparagus, reeds, and wooden pulp.
In order to further promote the utilisation of the handmade paper technology, Godfrey Atuhaire, a Research Technician at UIRI, has authored a book entitled; Handmade Paper: A Guide to its Production and Uses. The book contains simple techniques required to make handmade paper from banana stems and other fibrous materials.
The book focuses on benefitting the youth with keen interest in setting up cottage enterprises in the field of manufacturing handmade paper, biodegradable shopping paper bags and other biodegradable fibre products.
Lovin Kobusingye, the head of Kati Farms, one of the firms under incubation at the UIRI headquarters, took top honours at the 2012 EMRC Project Incubator Award in Dakar, Senegal for the innovative fish sausage idea.
The firm started in January 2012 at UIRI, but has already won international accolades.
“The panel of judges was unanimous in selecting her fish sausage for its innovation and community-based approach as well as her inspiring presentation to the forum’s audience,” said Jessica Frommer, the EMRC’s communication manager.
Kobusingye compelled the crowd with her determination to create incomes and jobs by producing fish sausages, a snack that has gained popularity in Nigeria, the rest of Africa and is gradually becoming part of many Ugandans’ diet.
“This being a new product on the market, many customers are inquisitive. Business is good and those who have tasted it have liked it,” Kobusingye says.
Bella Wine is produced by K-Roma Limited, a private limited company established in 2002.
K-Roma is one of the virtual (off site incubates) of UIRI. It processes, produces and packages wines as well as natural fruit juices from organically and locally produced fruits like passion, mangoes, pineapples, oranges, tangerines and hibiscus flowers.
Under their incubation projects, UIRI helped K-Roma to move from a cottage industry and build a factory in Najjera, Kiira. This factory helped K-Roma to increase her production to from 200 litres of wine per day to over 1,000 during peak fruit seasons.
UIRI also helped train Prudence Ukkonika in marketing as well as marketing, promotions materials including designing a proper label. In addition, they helped her procure a vehicle for her business.
Cow Horn Utilisation
Cow horn is an abundantly available and unique raw material in Uganda and yet, it remains largely unutilised.
The list of potential products that can be derived from cow horns is almost endless.
Example of products derived from this versatile material include: crafts and ornaments, buttons, tableware and various accessories.
Such high value products have so far, not locally been produced in significant commercial quantities.
It is in light of this observation that the institute in conjunction with Cedars (U) Limited has embarked on the cow horn value addition project under the stewardship of the Engineering Division’s Wood Technology unit.
The team has acquired the skills and basic equipment required for the processing of cow horn into various products like key holders, earrings, bangles and other decorative accessories and ornaments.