Archive for February 2010

Day 10: Last Day in Mbale

February 24, 2010

I just got back from the Municipal Council Office after meeting with the Mayor of Mbale!

Here’s the story…Yesterday while at Hope’s print shop, I was able to meet her husband Richard (Rex), who is a well-known pastor in Mbale.  As I explained my research to him, he suggested I interview the Mayor of Mbale and told me that he can set up a meeting with her if I would like.  I told him that I would absolute love the opportunity but that I didn’t have much time left in town.  We exchanged contact information, but I did not expect that it would work to schedule a meeting on such a timeframe.

But the call came in this morning; Rex said that we should hurry over to the Municipal Council Office because the Mayor was in her office and had a bit of time to meet.  Mike, Esther and I jumped into dress clothes and then flagged down two boda-bodas.

The Mayor is an older woman, a Muslim convert from Christianity, and a very well-respected individual in the community.  (There is a law in Uganda that 10% of the governing officials must be women).  We were ushered into her office, made introductions, and signed her guestbook.

We first spoke with her about the Uganda Amaranth Project and gave her some printed information and pamphlets.  She told us that she has, in fact, heard of our project and has even sampled both the porridge and popped amaranth.  She liked the taste of the popped very much, and apparently so did her fish.  (She told us that she tossed some into her fish pond at home and that the fish jumped out of the water for it.)  I chuckled but told her that we would have to get her another sample of popped amaranth.

The mayor then proceeded to ask us about how we were enjoying our time in Uganda and told us that we are very welcome here.  I then had a chance to ask her a few questions about new businesses in Mbale as well as her future goals for the city.  She told us about her own “manifesto”, where she has written out a number of her goals.  The issues she proceeded to address were ones which I had certainly been picking up on during my stay here.

Safe Water – Even though there are families within a few kilometers of fresh water, they still will settle for contaminated water, so the government has implemented a new project; 10 water kiosks have been erected throughout Mbale and its suburbs, and the mayor is currently scouting out new sites.

Power – Many of Mbale’s suburbs lack any sort of power, so the mayor is working on extending electricity to these areas.  But even with access to it, electricity is expensive to use; the mayor says that even she cooks with charcoal to save energy.

Roads – The roads here are in very poor condition, and they are expensive to maintain.  Mbale is on the route for many heavy trucks on their way to Sudan, etc., and this is extremely damaging to the main road.  The Mayor explained how very little can be done within one financial year, but that she has a plan for a bypass to be constructed around Mbale so that the roads don’t get quite so damaged.

Climate change – Deforestation is a problem in Mbale, particularly in the Village, where people don’t have access to electricity.  They cut down trees because that is the only way for them to cook food and keep warm.  The Mayor told us how she has visited both the US and Canada and appreciated the forest preserves and green initiatives.  She would like to see many trees and flowers planted in Mbale because she is aware of the positive effects this will have on the environment.  “Cut one tree, plant ten” is her slogan.


Day 9: Marathon Day

February 24, 2010

When I went to sleep Tuesday night, I felt like I had run a marathon!  Tuesday was demonstration day, and it was a huge success!  The women were running a few hours behind (called being on “African Time”), but were all set up outside Sumi Market by 11:00AM.  Simply due to the commotion created by our group, a larger crowd gathered quickly around the porridge table.  We got a great response to the porridge mix, and everyone was very impressed by the very high quality (fine flour) as well as the fact that it was grown and milled right here in Mbale.  People had a lot of questions about how to cook the porridge, where to buy it, and how to get seeds to grow it themselves.

Market Study

Mike and I had been planning on doing a market study this day when everyone would be in town, and this ended up being a perfect setting.  It is difficult for anyone, but especially a “Muzungu”, to gain the attention of an individual on the street.  This is in part because people here have been approached before by people conducting similar surveys.  Because we were giving out food samples, however, the people around our station were more willing to give us their time.

We devised a set of questions that would help us understand a family’s purchasing decisions, particularly when it comes to porridge.  Understanding as much as I can about this thought process will be a huge step in my own research, so I was very pleased to be able to learn so much in one morning.  We asked questions like: How many people are in your family?  Who does the cooking?  The purchasing? And so on… And then we also wanted to get a better idea for why people serve what they do to their families and whether the middle class was, in fact, the appropriate market to target with our high-quality, high-protein porridge.

I certainly learned about many interesting habits.  I spoke with one middle-class couple who told me that they do not consider nutrition when making purchasing decisions even though they can afford enriched products. An exception would be if they are buying for a newborn baby.  They feed their children exactly what they were fed growing up, and their reasoning is that both of them are healthy and strong, so they have no reason to think that the same food would affect their children any differently.  When this conversation was continued, however, this couple became more and more curious about amaranth porridge, and even more so once they tasted the quality of our product.

In speaking to more people, I got a feeling that the middle class is more concerned with product quality, while the lower class is more willing to sacrifice quality for price.  If they are not paying a lot for their food, they are willing to accept more grainy porridge with bits of dirt or sand.  (Yuck!)

I was also given the impression that Ugandans associate “local” with low quality.  This goes for all food, not just porridge.  In speaking with one businesswoman, I learned that many Ugandans tend to want to buy local product because it is cheaper.  If someone is looking for high-quality product, though, they will look on the product labels for a food that was produced abroad.

Very few of the people we spoke with had heard of amaranth before, but I got a strong impression that people can be convinced to buy amaranth porridge (or even another porridge enriched with amaranth) if they were enlightened about the health benefits.  The market will need to be sensitized and educated about why protein, iron, fiber, etc. are important to the body and how Grain Amaranth provides such nutrients.

All in all, this was a successful run.  Although the sample size was not very large, I felt as though I was able to interview a few “extreme users,” who all had a lot to share with me regarding their own views of the whole market.  This helped to build on the knowledge that I have already gained during my time in Mbale.  I feel confident that the middle class is the group to market our porridge to because most of them eat porridge at least once a day and because they can afford to buy food in the supermarkets.  On the other hand, many members of the lower class cannot afford to shop (or at least not for high-quality product), which is why they tend to grow all or most of their own food here.

When thinking about the market in a city like Kampala, however, I have a difficult time understanding how purchasing patterns may differ among the classes.  I would not be surprised to learn that almost no one has a garden in Kampala.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t as many lower class individuals living in the city to begin with.

Entrepreneur Interview

I also was able to have another interview with a woman entrepreneur today named Hope Mpamile, who is the owner of a print shop in town.  I met her when I went to make copies of our amaranth brochures, and she was very happy to speak with me about her business.

The largest takeaway from this interview was learning about the obstacles that Hope faces as a businessowner in Mbale.  First, she described for me her high turnover rate at her shop.  People tend to move around a lot and not want to stay in one job for long.  (Sound familiar?)  She is frustrated whenever she puts in a lot of effort to train her staffers on her equipment, only to have them leave a few months later.  Second, and even greater an issue, is the unreliable electricity in Mbale that can be devastating to Hope’s business if out for an entire day.  The power often goes out during high winds, when posts tend to collapse.  Then, because things “just move slowly here,” it can take many hours before the problem is fixed.  Because Hope’s printing business is so dependent on power, she would like to buy a generator for backup, but she does not have the capital right now to make such a large investment.

Despite these obstacles, Hope remains motivated to be successful in business.  She wants to see her employees succeed, and she wants to pay them good wages.  Her husband is a former banker who left his high-paying job to become a pastor, so Hope also feels that she has great responsibilities to her family.  It does not come as a surprise, then, that Hope is most motivated on the days that she has full power and a shop full of customers.


After a few successful hours of interviews, Mike and I visited a few Microfinance Institutions in town.  It was more challenging than I thought it would be to get the information that I wanted.  I decided to try be completely open with the first place we visited, so I told them that I am a student who is interested in learning more about microfinance.  I suppose I wasn’t surprised that this didn’t get me very far; the woman who I was speaking to shooed me away and looked back down at her work.

Next we tried approaching the MFI as business consultants from the US who are working with a microenterprise here.  We explained our desire to learn about the MFIs in Mbale so that we can pass on the information to the entrepreneurs we are working with.  Mike used the phrase “shopping around,” and I think this helped to catch their attention.  We still didn’t get too terribly far with any of the trials, but we were able to take a few notes on loan requirements and interest rates at various institutions.  Another good learning experience.


Today I was introduced to a new member of the Uganda Amaranth Project team, Bill Moore.  Bill is a successful businessman from Chicago with a huge heart for Christ and an endless amount of wisdom and energy.  He has come to Uganda to learn about the project and potentially help develop a more sound business plan for amaranth porridge distribution.  A few new issues have arisen with regard to the bakery’s internal operations during our time here, and some changes are necessary, particularly with Mannu’s hierarchy structure.

Bill joined us for a late dinner at the Hotel, and we had a very intense discussion about Mannu and how to move forward.  There are some big ideas being tossed around that might require quick action, although that tends to be an oxymoron in the context of international development.  As we are nearing the end of our trip, I realize how critical it is that the project is left in a healthy state.

Day 8: Monday

February 24, 2010

TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) an organization that provides services to individuals afflicted with HIV/AIDS.  It is primarily funded by foundational donors like the Civil Society Fund, PEPFA, and CDC.  One of the women we have met, Mirrium Mandu, is HIV positive and goes to TASO for clinic days.  Mirrium explained that TASO serves dry tea on Clinic Days (Tues & Thurs), Mirrium had the idea to approach TASO about providing amaranth to their customers instead.  Many of TASO’s clients, especially children, suffer from malnourishment.  It is not uncommon for AIDS patients to experience reduced appetite – especially if they have sores of the mouth – but amaranth is very easy to digest and its high fiber content even aids in digestion.

I urged Mirrium to set up a meeting with TASO because I was excited about the initiative and I was also hoping that by having an opportunity to talk to a decision-maker at TASO, I would be able to apply a lot to my own research agenda.  Mirrium came back and told us that Monday would be the best day for meetings because most of the staff is available.  So this morning, Cindy, Innocent, and I accompanied Mirrium to the offices with hopes of meeting decision-makers but no official appointment.

Our goal was to make an offer to provide TASO with enough porridge to serve their patients for two weeks of clinic days.  Then, if they receive a positive response from their clients, they will have the option to sign a contract with Mannu.

We got to TASO around 7:30AM because we wanted to catch these people before they began their meetings, but the place was pretty dead.  The few people we ran into seemed to indicate that nobody would be around today and that we would have to make an appointment with the Secretary to come again on another day.  The Secretary was not there yet, so we decided to sit and wait.  Eventually, however, two men walked by and introduced themselves as TASO Counselors.  We began telling them about Amaranth, and they both showed a high level of interest and excitement.  They told us that TASO is always interested in supporting innovative approaches to nutrition.  After meeting with them for an hour or so, they wanted to introduce us to the Site Manager – the decision-maker – and doctor.

These meetings were very successful as we identified a number of opportunities to collaborate with TASO.

1. We learned that TASO used to serve porridge (maize/soy mixture purchased from World Food Program) to clients on their clinic days (Tues & Thurs).  This was during a time of famine, so the porridge was provided for free for a finite period of time.

We told TASO about the free demonstrations we are planning for tomorrow, and one of the counselors exclaimed, “When are you coming to try here?!”  Everyone we met with agreed that nutrition coincides with the services and drugs that TASO provides its patients.  With Innocent’s extensive knowledge of the benefits of Amaranth Grain, TASO was able to understand how this porridge product could be a very good investment.

The only reservation TASO has on this front is that Mannu is not at the capacity level (200-300 clients per clinic day) that they need to be in order to provide TASO with a steady supply of porridge.  If TASO accepts our 2-week offer, patients will probably like the product and expect it to continue being served.  Cindy promised that we would be able to meet the need because we already have an inventory of flour.

The Manager asked that we set up a training day next week for all of the counselors; he wants the counselors to fully understand the health benefits of amaranth and anything else that might be important before they begin serving it.  Innocent will lead this tasting and training session next Tuesday.

2. We also learned that TASO supports clients in income-generating enterprises; they do not want to give handouts, but rather to develop skill.  TASO will either present good ideas to clients or they will try as hard as possible to support ideas generated by their clients.

We introduced the few entrepreneurial initiatives that we foresee coming to Mbale involving farming, milling, and popping amaranth, and had a positive response from TASO.  This organization will be a good long-term partner for allowing HIV/AIDS individuals benefit from “God’s Gift Grain.”

After a very productive meeting, Cindy and I returned to the Hotel around noon and had lunch, but then it began raining.  My plans to head into town for interviews were spoiled, but I was able to take advantage of the day and catch up on my weekend blogging, type up a lot of my notes, as well as fit in a highly-needed nap.

DAYS 6 & 7

February 23, 2010


The Elgon bunch – Rich, Cindy, Mike, Ashley, and Esther – awoke early on Saturday to hike up Mount Elgon.  A minivan drove us up into the mountains and we passed through the “Village,” where some of Mbale’s poorest people live.  Living in the mountains, most of these families have very limited access to resources like running water, medicine, and schooling.  Their greatest resource here, however, is the forest.  We saw entire families carrying wood from the trees.  I could not believe the amount of weight that some of the little children were bearing on top of their heads.  Everyone was very friendly, though some of the children were afraid of the “Muzungus” (white people).

After a very bumpy ride, we made it to a check-in which would be the starting point of our hike.  With three guides, we began making our way through the jungle-canopy.  Every so often we would come into a clearing, where there would be a community or some farm fields, but most of the hike was through the trees and up steep rocks.  The flora and fauna was beautiful.  We saw wild bananas and beautiful flowering trees and we took pictures of breathtaking views that simply won’t be done justice by our cameras; we met a chameleon, took snapshots of colorful birds, and ran into a few troops of fire ants, which was not too pleasant.

We cheered when we finally made it to our destination, Wanale Cave, after two hours of hiking and climbing.  (I didn’t realize that it would be an actual cave!)  Standing at the mouth of Wanale, I saw what I thought were cobwebs lining the cave ceiling.  Mike was quick to correct me, however; they were spider webs – most of the spiders were shriveled up, but not all.  Let’s just say I didn’t go too much farther into the cave.  After a short rest/snack break up on the rocks (and getting attacked by a daddy longlegs), we began to make our way down the mountain.

“I’ve Seen the Rains Down in Africa”

As we were leaving the cave, it began to drizzle, so we would have to hurry to make it back to the van.  The light rain quickly turned into larger droplets, so one of the guides cut off giant leaves from the wild banana with his machete – umbrellas!  The large drops came down harder and harder, and soon the path that we were walking on turned into a muddy river.  I tried to stay out of the water for awhile, but my tennis shoes became soaked through anyway, so I gave in.

Then the winds came.  It was raining sideways, and not an inch of me was dry anymore.  I finally tossed my “umbrella” aside because it was now in shreds, but I worried that my cameras and interview notes inside my backpack were getting wet.  We finally came to a small community and hid under the shelter of a family’s metal roof.  They ushered us inside to get warm and to wait out the rains.  Mike ran back to look for his camera, which he dropped when he slipped in the water.  I checked my backpack, and sure enough, all of my papers were soaked at the bottom because I had a pool of water in my bag.  Meanwhile, poor Esther was shivering because her body was not used to being so cold.  We all hugged onto her to surround her with body heat.

Finally the rains subsided, and we trudged the rest of the way down the mountain.  The path brought us out into a small village community, and everyone and their dog came out to see the wet & muddy “Muzungus”.  We began walking back toward the van, and all of the little boys in the community started chasing after us, yelling, “Muzungu, Muzungu!”  We humored them by taking a few pictures and letting them look, but then we hopped into the van and headed back to Elgon Hotel.

After our [cooler-than-desirable] showers, Esther, Mike and I headed into town on a boda-boda to do some shopping.  Then we joined Cindy and Rich back at the hotel before heading to dinner with a group of about 15 Dutch people from the Netherlands that we met at Mt. Elgon.  (Ironic that I thought I could Dinner was very entertaining with such a large party and not too much overlap of language.  We brought them to eat at our favorite restaurant in Mbale that serves fresh tilapia.  I ordered a fillet with a side of stir-fried vegetables and chapati.


Remember the Candidate Conference at the hotel that I wrote about before?  There has been excitement here all weekend, and voting took place on Saturday night.  Very surprisingly, the Mayor of Kampala lost the vote for candidacy, but there was still plenty of celebrating by the victor’s supporters…ALL NIGHT LONG.  The party was right outside our window, so it was tough to get rest.  When the music was finally shut off at 5AM, we got some rest.  Luckily, Sunday was a good day to sleep in.

In the early afternoon, we gathered with the bakery women at Sadina to celebrate Cindy’s birthday.  Innocent and I led worship songs, and then a group of young girls – many of them orphans – performed traditional song and dance as a gift to Cindy; we had so much fun watching.  One of the girls, Fatuma, is sponsored by Rich and Cindy.  They bring her clothes and send her money to pay for her education and other necessities.  Fatuma wrote a sweet letter to Cindy on behalf of the other orphans, asking her to help find them “friends from the US” to help meet their needs.  It was very touching.

We stayed for dinner at Dinah’s, and Cindy and I helped Esther in the kitchen.  We made chicken in tomato-veggie sauce (Cindy’s concoction), traditional rice, and fresh avocado.  It began raining after dark, so we called our cab driver to come pick us up.  The cost for 5 people to ride home was 3,000 shillings, which is about $1.50.

Entrepreneur Interview

Dinah’s Story

Dinah Busiku, widowed mother to three, has an accounting diploma as well as a diploma in business administration.  She was married at a young age and took her first job with a bank in Mbale.  As his career was gearing up, Dinah’s husband Sam (a civil servant) made an offer to buy a government house – a sizeable but charming home on a beautiful landscape in the foothills of Mount Elgon.

Unfortunately, Sam passed away before he was able to close the deal, but Dinah took it upon herself to successfully secure a 10-year mortgage on the home.  At the time, she was running a business that she had started, Nimbus Enterprises, a construction supply company.  She kept up with the business despite the difficulties and being cheated by many dishonest people.

This continued until Dinah’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in; her home seemed to be too big for her small family, and she feared that it was a waste of space.  She decided to take out a loan to beautify her home and convert it into an inn – Sadina Inn (a combination of the two names, Sam and Dinah).  Now, the income generated by the inn goes toward the home’s mortgage; essentially, the home now pays for itself.

Clothing Shop

After the year-long loan had been paid off, Dinah was ready to move into a new line of business for additional income.  Sewing had been a talent of hers since she taught herself when she was very young, but only more recently did she see that her work was quite good and that she could sell it.  She first began by selling to friends, but soon word got out, and more and more customers started bringing requests to her.

Dinah decided to open a shop in town, so she began renting a small space and purchased some fabric from Kampala as inventory; she makes more profit when clients buy fabric from her rather than bringing their own.  Dinah then took out a loan for three million shillings to purchase three new machines: electric sewing machine, manual sewing machine, and finishing machine.  The loan is through Century Rural Bank, which deals primarily with farmers and the middle class, whereas most other banks in town are more selective about whom they lend to (upper class only).  The interest rate on Dinah’s loan is 17%, and she also pays a 1% loan fee, 1% commitment fee, and 1% loan insurance fee.  She told me that she is relatively satisfied with this bank, but that they charge outrageous late fees if she can’t make a payment on time.


On a typical day, Dinah arrives at her shop at 8:30AM, does her stitching there, and comes home in the evenings to see what’s going on at Sadina (new customers, checking the books, etc.).  At 8:30PM, Dinah begins cutting material for the next day until about 1 or 2AM.  Her only time of rest is when she is in Church on Sundays or when she is traveling.


Dinah’s largest obstacle as an entrepreneur had been her lack of capital.  More specifically, she feels that she lacks some facilities at her inn.  As most of her customers are directed to her when the 3 major hotels/resorts are full, they typically expect Sadina to have the same facilities – fully-furnished kitchen so that they can cook their own meals, TVs in bedrooms, etc.

Lack of capital has also led to a lack of stock in Dinah’s retail shop.  When people can’t come in and choose materials and fabrics, she often loses business.  But she can’t keep up her inventory unless she has the capital.


Dinah has faced many struggles as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, but she continues to persevere.  She tells me that she is motivated by an ambition to be a successful businesswoman.  She wants to see her children perform well in school and she wants to build nice homes for them.  She is willing to work twice as hard to see them succeed.



February 22, 2010

A Day with Betty:

5am –     Wake up and bathe

Make breakfast for children (typically tea and bread or maize porridge)

6:30 –    Feed children and see the youngest off to school, which is in town

Clean dishes from breakfast and from the night before

Clean home, mop floors, feed cows

10 –         Eat breakfast with husband

Continue housework

11 –         Prepare lunch

1PM –    Eat Lunch (typically bananas, beans, dodo (wild Amaranth))

1:30 –     Rest, watch films (Betty’s favorite are Nigerian films (30 minute DVDs that can be purchased in town) that depict families and how to best conduct a household.  i.e. shows about foster parents or child abuse)

OR Betty will go to work at the Hospital (as a nurse) or to work in Mannu Bakery from about 10 to 4.

4PM –    Dinner (porridge or mandazi (half-cakes) and tea)

Bathe again

5PM –    Children come home from school

6PM –    Begin preparing Supper (Rice and meat or beans).

9PM –    Go to bed (Sometimes the family watches TV after dinner, although electricity is often unreliable, so they typically go to sleep when is gets dark.)

Mike, Esther and I woke up early this morning so that we could be at Betty’s house before dawn.  Since it was pitch black when we left, we didn’t want to take a boda-boda.  Instead, we arranged with our taxi driver who had driven us to dinner the night before to meet us at Mt. Elgon at 6am.  He was running late in the morning because he had to go to Morning Prayer as he is a Muslim.  We arrived at Betty’s home right at 6:30 and were just in time to see her two youngest kids leaving for school.

I was sad that we did not get to have breakfast with the children, but we did get to meet Betty’s husband, Francis, and three of their children.  Francis is a coffee farmer who does very well, and Betty is a nurse at the hospital in Mbale who is also a member of the Women’s Group who started Mannu Bakery with a loan from Partners Worldwide.  Compared to their neighbors’, this family has a nice home and stable on a large piece of land.  They can afford to own a TV and to eat meat 2 or 3 times per week and fish once a week.  Though I did not ask about the family’s income level, I can assume that they are members of the middle class.

Like most families in rural Uganda, they grow much of their own food in their garden.  Though it is a bit larger than others, Betty’s garden is comprised of traditional Ugandan plants: bananas, passion fruit, cassava, green peas, dodo (which is the native relative of Amaranth), maize, millet, coffee, and a field of greens for her cows, Vivian and Diana.

I found it interesting to learn that Betty does not grow Grain Amaranth in her garden; only once a month does she buy porridge from town and serve it to her family.  When I inquired about this, she told me that though she is the one who tends to the garden, her husband controls what is grown.  She would like to grow amaranth, though, and is fairly sure that her husband will allow her to plant seed this upcoming season.

While the three middle Kissa children were mopping the floor and washing dishes, I helped Betty peel “Irishes” (potatoes) and green bananas to make a dish called “Matooke”.  Peeling with a knife was a challenge for me, and Betty and her daughter laughed when I told them that I have a special utensil for peeling potatoes. Betty then boiled the potatoes and had them sent to her patient in the hospital.  After that, we got to work on preparations for “tea,” which is often taken between breakfast and lunch.  African tea is made by boiling tea leaves and other spices in milk.  We also made “chapati,” which is a traditional food that resembles Indian naan or thick Mexican tortillas.

When the chapati was ready, we called Esther and Mike in to have tea.  Betty’s family let us alone at the kitchen table to eat, which was fortunate because I was somewhat hesitant to try the milk-tea that had started to develop a filmy-layer after sitting out.  After we were finished eating, Betty gave me some “ripes” (yellow bananas) and yummy avocados to take with me.  We thanked Betty and Francis for welcoming us into their home, and I gave them a bag of my favorite granola that I buy at home as a token of gratitude.  I have learned that it is very appropriate to bring something like bread or sugar to your host, and I plan on picking up some bread from town to gift to the other women whom I visit later this week.


Gertrude lives with Stephen, her husband of 27 years whom we did not get to meet, and they currently care for 5 children: 4 of her brother’s orphaned children and one other orphan.  Throughout the years, the couple has cared for many children, who have since grown up and gone off to work.  It is very common in Mbale for families to take in children who have been orphaned by HIV-AIDS.

Stephen is a farmer who wants to begin growing Amaranth and has developed an idea of growing amaranth in the “Village.”  He has already been taking amaranth to the Village for others to taste; both he and Gertrude are passionate about expanding the growth and consumption of “God’s Gift Grain” so that many people will benefit from it.  According to Gertrude, “We have so many sufferings kids here, and we want to help them grow strong.”  The entrepreneurial couple also runs a retail store in town for additional income, and Gertrude says that she works there in the evenings.

In addition to her work and family commitments, Gertrude is also part of the Women’s Group that runs the Bakery (currently volunteer work).  But that’s not all that this energetic woman is involved in; she participates in many other women’s groups in her village, and she told me about a few of them.  The first, called “Knowledge is Wealth,” partners up its 60 members, who buy gifts for each other (things that they need for their homes).  There is also another group that makes and sells clay and grass stoves that are desirable because they save energy (charcoal).  There are three “professors” of stove-making in each village, and Gertrude is the coordinator for the whole district.  Finally, there are two groups for savings and credit.  Community members, mostly women, give each other support to encourage saving.  Secondly, the groups provide 10% interest loans to members of the group who need capital to expand their businesses.  According to Gertrude, this system works very well because of the community-accountability system, and more and more people are beginning to form similar groups.

“We live a simple life, but we are comfortable with it.”

Gertrude’s home is very modest; she has neither a TV nor a kitchen table, and she has a very small plot of land in a neighborhood that is more crowded than the one we were just in.  The couple also owns a second small home in town, where more children live.  It has taken long for them to develop their homes because they pay school fees for all of the children.  But this has not stopped Gertrude from keeping a beautiful garden as well as cats, chickens and goats.  She just purchased a small plot of land adjacent to her own in order to expand her garden, and she also plans to buy a cow in the near future.

You may have already guessed that Gertrude grows Grain Amaranth in her garden – on a small scale, of course.  After harvesting, she pays only 100 shillings per kilo to grind the grain into flour at a nearby mill and then stores it for consumption.  She feeds her family amaranth porridge (50/50 mix of amaranth to maize flour) twice a week at most because she has such a limited amount, but she wishes that she could feed it to her kids every day.

Gertrude also feeds her family posho (maize porridge) and millet, which is given out free by the government to those who need it.  When the Uganda Amaranth Project team brings popped amaranth from the US, Gertrude enjoys it very much.  She will usually mix it with maize porridge because she enjoys the taste and health benefits.  (Popped amaranth has even more health benefits than does the flour.)  If one were available, Gertrude would love to have an amaranth popping machine.

Ignoring the Bottom of the Pyramid

A quote to reflect on: “We have many friends from the US who come to assist us, but we find that most of this assistance goes to those who are [already] well-to-do.”

Day 4: Stories & Updates

February 20, 2010

Sadina Inn

For years, visitors have been few and far-between at the Sadina Inn.  Dinah, a beautiful and very sharp woman with a diploma in accountancy, has no good explanation for this other than that curses have been placed on her family and their property by people who practice witchcraft.  On Tuesday morning, Mike and I walked to Dinah’s home to meet her daughter, who has since become a close friend.  During our conversation with both women, we learned that the Mayor of Kampala, Nasser Ntege Sebagala, came to visit Dinah to request lodging for 700 guests this weekend at her 9-bedroom inn.  (That was not a typo!)  The Mayor is running for election in 2011 and is visiting Mbale this weekend for the Delegates Conference for the Democratic Party, which will be held at Mt. Elgon (my hotel).  But the rest of his entourage needs a place to lodge this weekend, too.  A group of top political figures will be occupying all of Dinah’s rooms, while hundreds of other delegates will be sleeping on mattresses under large tents that spread out across Dinah’s property.

According to Dinah, “God is good!”  She and her modest staff immediately got to work sprucing up the inn, having concrete stairs installed in the beautifully steep property, setting up the tents, and bringing port-a-potty’s (the Ugandan version) for the visitors to use.

Mike and I woke up this morning and had a quick breakfast before taking boda-bodas (bicycle taxi’s) to The Sadina Inn, where we spent a few hours helping Dinah get ready for her big evening.  Though it was not much, Dinah was extremely appreciative of our help and kept thanking us.  Amidst all of her stress and excitement, I was amazed when Dinah thoughtfully wished me a happy belated birthday.  What a remarkable woman.

By the way, the political parades through the streets still have not ceased!  I wouldn’t doubt that this is now partially in preparation for “His Worship the Mayor’s” arrival.  There are men and women clapping and singing in the streets in front of our hotel (where the Mayor will be staying), and many finely-dressed Ugandans are beginning to check in at the front desk.


I couldn’t help but smile as the women learned about the two supermarket owners with whom we spoke yesterday about hosting demonstrations in front of their stores.  Then, even more Hallelujah’s echoed across the room when one of the men told them that he received a call this morning from Sudan.  A Sudanese woman, who is a food supplier to NGOs, somehow got a-hold of an amaranth porridge sample and wants to order…in bulk…from Mannu!  She wants 6 kilos to be sent tomorrow so that she can share with the NGOs at a meeting on Saturday.  The women promptly began milling flour so that it could be delivered to Kampala and be mailed first thing tomorrow morning.

Project Status Update

I have been working very hard to develop relationships (and build trust) with the women of the bakery over the last few days.  That is a major reason for why I have been participating in all of the Mannu meetings rather than journeying out on my own; the Leeps have already earned the trust of these people and this group is a large resource to my learning.  And as one woman, Grace, put it, “Any friend of Cindy’s is a friend of mine!”

Though Ugandans are some of the friendliest, the people here, women especially, are rather quiet and reserved (especially toward outsiders).  Today, however, I finally felt like my work has begun to pay off.  The women are showing that they are more comfortable with me; not only are they open to me interviewing them, but they are ALL asking me when I want to visit their homes, be introduced to their husbands and children and orphans, and participate in daily activities with them.

Today was my first official interview, and I learned a LOT.  I interviewed Betty Kissa and visited her home while the rest of the group was milling amaranth flour.  Since Betty’s English is weaker than most, Mama Loy helped to interpret.  I will wait to share the details of our conversation as Mike and I are getting up early to be at Betty’s home at 6am to have breakfast (maybe something like tea and porridge) with her children.  I know that I will have a lot more to add to Betty’s story after that!

Until then,


Day 3: Birthday in Mbale

February 17, 2010

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:)

In Town:

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!

(live chickens!)

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!