Last Updated on: 7th December 2023, 10:45 am
Kampala I According to the Uganda Investment Authority‘s Annual Investment Abstract of 2019/20, local planned investments in Uganda totalled US$310.2m and amounted to 37.4 per cent of all the planned investments.
Foreign Direct Investments (FDI-sourced investments) amounted to US$520.5m, representing 63 per cent of all the planned investments in the financial year 2019/20.
Interestingly, in the same financial year, UIA states that local investments registered the “highest level of planned employment” (9,248), representing 36 per cent of all planned employment. Chinese investments, it says, employed 6,760 people, representing 26.2 per cent.
Amid some strides, challenges are aplenty and have stalled the progress and vision of some local investors in the country as shared by Robert Byabasheija, CEO of Chucks Foods Uganda Limited.
In an exclusive interview with tndNews, Byabasheija describes his company as “innovators wanting to add value to citrus farming in the country”.
Below is the full interview:
On who they work with and Chucks Foods Uganda Limited’s products…
We currently work with farmers in the Eastern part of the country to produce organic lemon powder. We get the fresh lemons, mature – ready for juice and we dehydrate it to get lemon powder.
Another product that we are having is Chucks Ginglen Powder where we have added lemon powder together with ginger but the ginger we are using is not the exotic one. We are focusing on local products that are not modified…
On operations and funding…
One of the things that we have been struggling with is funding and expansion. Right now, Chucks Foods Uganda Limited survives on personal savings but with the potential of growing… we have sought so many avenues to get support from the government and that has been a challenge. So many bureaucracies. Despite the documentation indicating that we are suitable for receiving funding or support from the government, this hasn’t been through.
Economic climate and favours…
We have been in business for the last four years but the platforms or the economic climate is not favouring young investors and we are always hearing they have given land to foreign investors, they have given land to this but we people who have tried our level best to push on a personal basis have not been supported. So, (and) tapping into such mechanisms like exhibitions, we still have to pay to get into there, so that means that if you don’t have money, even if you have a good concept, you will never get anywhere because you know, it’s about cash all over the place.
My humble request is for the government to come through. We have three areas within the investment profile that we struggle with. One, for innovators, we struggle with visibility and media. If there would be a platform where (in the package), they (the government) are always saying they support local investors. Add a package of media so that using those platforms we can sell our products.
Personally, what we look at as lemon powder is the normal lemon that we have been doing and adding value. Organic powder spends more than 24 months on the shelves the way we pack it in a vacuum compared to the lemons that get spoilt in two to three days. So, if given that platform, we know we can reduce the perishability of lemons across the board and include longevity. As you so much know there are so many medicinal benefits with lemons and the bit about our lemons, we only remove the seeds and blend them with the peels – so, all that is embedded inside there.
On challenges and unfavourable taxes…
Another challenge that we are finding as young innovators and investors in Uganda is the tax reforms. We are not seeing any support in regard to tax reforms – instead, they are squeezing us to die. Personally, we are running in arrears, we are not making sales but pushing is coming as if we have robbed the government of taxes.
So where will I get the money? We use our own funds to buy machines from China; I don’t have any tax holidays. I have invested over $150,000 in Chucks Foods to buy machinery, to pay workers, to do the branding and I have knocked on almost all offices that I know that support agro-business and their value addition – this does not come through.
The final challenge that we are having is, ‘they are saying that this tax holiday is there. Who receives this tax holiday?’ ‘Is there any Ugandan who benefits within the portfolio of the hardworking age groups who receive these tax holidays on merit, not the bureaucratic way of doing things?’ I come with my lemon powder, I come with my ginger powder, I come with my pineapple powder and the government is interested. I have knocked on all offices of Ministers but you know, you write a letter, take it to another office and they tell you, ‘You are trying to bypass, you are trying to show us you are big’….
I really don’t understand…I do a lot of reading, and I write a lot of proposals but the support is not coming through. Maybe I need some support to guide me…but I don’t think that is necessary because I have done excessively on products that we plan to make as Chucks Foods.
And we think that if those four areas are addressed, I think we are going to be a nation to the community because the input is here.
On using platforms to exhibit and what it means for farmers…
I do not want something for free but give me a platform to thrive. Thanks to the National Agricultural Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU). It is also struggling because I think it is like a new movement to drive organic products. So, we think that maybe many more of these are able to give us. I didn’t come to the exhibition to look for an income, I came here to network and even if I don’t make any sales I know I will have picked ABCD from them. I have talked to some potential investors who have really liked the products and we think we can pick it from here. If we get many more like this, the farmers that we work with (we work with 14,000 farmers) in Soroti, Amuria, Serere and Kaberamaido who supply me with organic lemons. What we want to pick from NOGAMU is: how do we support the certification of those farmers for traceability so that we are also able to compete? Me as Chucks am looking at the products that I make. I have already certified the company. We have UNBS, we have Halal, and we plan to get the Uganda Organic Certification Limited (Ugo Cert) in the next few months.
On what he has learnt and heard from the ongoing exhibition…
The movement is: live healthy, eat healthy but even when the government is pushing for that there is no actual support for our innovations. So many people are here and you hear their ideas and you hear their visions but nowhere will someone tell you ‘The government has come in, maybe to train my workers, help me access finance, they have given me tax holiday’.
The people who hear about tax holidays are people coming from abroad, they are benefiting. I went and looked at the Free Zone Authority and they told me to get a free zone permit as a Ugandan, you need to export 80 per cent of the products. But how do I export 80 per cent when no one knows lemon powder can be made? The lemon powder we have seen is from India and people are thriving. We have organic lemons here and we can make lemon powder. Why do we have to wait for India to come here and bring that lemon powder yet we can do it?
On how many people Chucks Foods Uganda Limited has employed since its inception….
As I told you, we are surviving on personal funds so we work with casuals mainly. We have five core staff that are mainly in administrative roles then we employ seven casual workers who come in when the peaks are up. Immediately after the packing is done, we release them – we have no contractual terms with them. But you see, if we get more and more of this then the production continues. Last year we produced twice and the farmers that we normally contact asked us, “Are you people still making lemon powder? Our lemons are rotting here.” But where will we put the lemons because we don’t have storage facilities? If all these things are worked on, we should be able to leverage some of these mechanisms of the government to improve our value addition.
On his vision and where he intends to be in the next 5 years…
My vision is to be able to substitute what Kericho brings to the country as Chucks Foods. This is my vision. In the next five years, I want to see that I am favourably competing with Kericho to reduce the balance of trade for the country, we look at import substitution, and we have those things here. Why are we importing them? If someone is going to import, let it be something you can manufacture. But my vision is to make sure that I do import substitution in the country and also looking at the quality of our lemons I will be able to export so that on top of limiting what comes into the country we are moving to take what they don’t have in terms of quality.
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