Day 3: Birthday in Mbale
We started off the day today with a Mannu Bakery meeting at Sadina Inn. When I arrived, I was greeted by the Women’s Group, who burst out in a happy birthday song! After friendly introductions, Innocent led the group in a worship song. Then the group migrated into a small building in the back, which is going to be rented out by Mannu Bakery as a workshop for the amaranth flour milling machine (arrived in August and operational as of today) as well as an industrial-sized amaranth popper (JUST arrived and not operational).
The men spent some time attaching the new milling equipment, which was designed by retired professors from _ University, to a wooden base. Then we tested the machine; the by-product was beautiful flour that was very fine and would definitely be acceptable to the market! The women began to praise God for the provision of the equipment that would allow them to mill their own flour rather than outsourcing the milling. The women were now anxious to begin the discussion of porridge distribution.
Cool video coming soon!
After the milling, we sat down with the women to perform “process-mapping” under the direction of Cindy. The women led us through all of the steps to produce 250 kg of porridge (which was set as a weekly goal at the last meeting). There is a South African-based supermarket chain in Kampala, ShopRite, which has told the UAP Team that they would like to purchase 1000kg of Porridge per month! While hitting this target will be a challenge, it was great to learn that the market for Amaranth exists in Kampala.
We ran into a problem, however, when we came to the ShopRite delivery details. Because ShopRite is a large company, they will be willing to pay cash-on-delivery for the product. But how much cash would they ask for? 3000 shillings? 3500 shillings? We began by asking the leadership what their costs were, and they told us 2800 shillings per kilo of flour (1 kilo=1package of flour). They had no cost break-down to back this number up, however. It was obvious that this would have to be the next group activity; it would help us learn a lot more about the inner-workings of the bakery and provide us with enough knowledge to advise the bakery on price-setting. It can be frustrating to run across issues like this during a development project – to learn that a business has been operational for some time but does not have concrete knowledge or written evidence of their costs (and profits, for that matter).
We spent time breaking apart the production costs (including overhead and excluding wages for the women) for 1 kilo of flour (assuming production level of 250 kilos/week) and found that the cost per unit is actually 1955.4 shillings. The bakery was about 30% off in their number. It is quite helpful to know, however, that we have accounted for all costs (and left room for flex) and are now ready to work on a pricing strategy.
After working through the math and showing the women how much profit they could make at different wholesale prices, we spent some time briefly discussing the idea of fair wages in Uganda. The women are not currently making any profit from their hard work, and I believe that some sort of incentive-policy needs to be put into effect immediately in order to keep morale high after the UAP team leaves in 10 days.
We next discussed (and reminded the women of) the loan agreement that Mannu made with Partners Worldwide. Another portion (probably 10%) of the bakery profits need to go toward loan repayment. A final percentage of the profits (TBD) need to go toward re-investment, savings, and working capital.
All in all, a successful meeting because we made so much progress. The women left in good spirits and seem to be anxious to keep moving forward with plans for Mannu Bakery Amaranth Porridge.
On our way back from the meeting, we ran into some children on their way to school, and Mike asked them to sing me happy birthday:)
This all happened before lunch! After our walk back to the hotel, Cindy, Rich, Mike and I hitched a ride in the back of a pick-up that was headed into town. We had lunch at a local restaurant and then met Esther for a tour of Mbale. There were more (and even bigger) post-election parades in the streets of Mbale; I have been surprised to see so much continued celebration.
We stopped in a few supermarkets to take a peak at their porridge and flour offerings and displays and we also made a point to speak with store-owners (who tend to be Indian) about Amaranth and Amaranth Porridge. According to the women, Mannu has attempted – but not yet succeeded – to build relationships with local store owners in the hopes of selling their product in the stores in town. At an earlier meeting, we discussed the possibility of hosting porridge cooking demonstrations outside these supermarkets and telling passersby that they can purchase the porridge inside the store. Well, when we asked two store owners whether they had heard of amaranth, they told us they had not. And when we proposed the cooking demo idea and asked whether they would be interested in selling our product in their stores, they said yes.
This was great news, and we started dreaming up a load of ideas. At the same time, however, it was hard not to question the situation at hand. Did the women really approach these supermarket owners and get turned down? Maybe they did try and just didn’t make it very far into the conversation. Maybe nobody was willing to speak with them because they were women (white people tend to get respect in the marketplace). Maybe they didn’t try at all. I think we all felt somewhat frustrated even though we were thrilled that we were able to make the contact. I truly hope that all Mannu needs to succeed in the Mbale market is a jump start in informing the consumer about Amaranth.
My favorite part of our afternoon was venturing through the open-air market, where vendors were packed in extremely close quarters for what seemed like a square mile (but was probably much smaller in reality), selling everything from produce and fish…to beautifully-sewn skirts and garments…to watches, hand tools and miscellaneous trinkets. Cindy says that the smell of the Ugandan market, which is rather unpleasant, is one that you’ll never forget. I have some pictures from town that I will post tomorrow!
I have certainly had a fabulous, yet smelly, 22nd birthday! I look forward to continuing the sharing of stories and project updates with everyone. Thanks for reading!Uncategorized