In Masaka, mobilizing and educating the small enterprises that need it most
The sound of a small grinding machine greets you at the entrance of Noah’s Ark, a small enterprise in Masaka District, Uganda. Then, it is the swath of bright red millet being fanned out to dry in the sun.
Noah’s Ark owner Samuel Musoke creates a variety of items from local produce like groundnuts, maize and okra. His products range from peanut butter to cassava flour to millet powder – all packaged and labelled on premises and sold in the greater Masaka area as well as Kampala.
“I was a lecturer at the university. When I started this business, I really started from zero. Some of my students and fellow lecturers wondered what I was doing. I told them ‘My professors are here now’. Yes the people in business maybe didn’t go to school but you can’t even believe the practical knowledge,” Musoke said.
After making the move from academia, he brought a thirst for learning to his new venture, first grasping how to process millet and then developing an understanding of the other grains he now works with. His wife has a past in food studies and they worked together to develop the business, which includes an orientation to the health benefits of his products.
Now, with eight employees, Musoke is eyeing expansion to markets outside the country – both for himself and his fellow Masaka District small businesses.
“We got involved with the commercial services project and they told us the Uganda Small Scale Industries Association [USSIA] had collapsed in Masaka. The commercial officer was working to mobilize and train people running small enterprises,” he said.
He took part in the training and a rejuvenated USSIA in Masaka was born, with Musoke as chair.
That training, the district commercial officer’s support and much needed infrastructure for the Masaka commercial office was part of work focusing on local-level services for micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) done in a partnership between the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives and the Enhanced Integrated Framework over more than five years.
“I didn’t know how to brand, how to come up with a label. Now when we do trainings people see our branding that comes from Masaka where they are and they say ‘Hey this is from Masaka!’. So they know they could do the same,” he said.
“The project has given us that knowledge, but we have many other challenges,” he added.
Those challenges include needing better machinery to process larger amounts of product and lack of funds to supply orders so as to meet higher demand.
The cost for mandatory standards certification is also heavy on his mind, a prerequisite for access to the larger supermarkets in Uganda and the region, as well as to the EU.
“Maybe when they fixed the figures they fixed it to other big companies, not knowing that there are some micro organizations that are just growing – and that is a very big challenge. Now if we want to send our products out we can’t because we are not certified,” he said.
He said he hopes the Government would consider waiving the fees for MSMEs in order to encourage market entry and their compliance.
While he works to get his peanut butter and maize powder certified in order to export, as he receives inquiries from businesses in the EU and regionally, Musoke remains focused on Noah’s Ark in Masaka and its future.
“The hot selling product right now is our groundnut sauce. We also have okra that we make into a beverage. Okra has been in Africa for 2,000 years. Most people eat it green, but for us we turn it into a powder like coffee and you drink it and it is very nutritious,” he said.
And, with the business mind he has cultivated, he also keeps his eye on the future.
“I’m looking at growing from small to big… I wanted to put something practical in the ground that would last the test of time and leave a legacy for my children and even other people who have been working with us… I believe this thing, what we’ve started, will not die tomorrow.”