Day 2: Election Day

Today was Election Day in Mbale. I could tell from the moment I woke up that there was excitement in the air. Initially, we had been planning on having a meeting with the Women’s Group at the Bakery, but we learned early that none of that would happen today because Election Day is treated as a holiday; Ugandans get very involved in politics.

The major political party in Uganda is the National Resistance Movement (NRM), which has dominated parliament for years. The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was formed in 2004 by ex-NRM members and has been the main opposition party in Uganda. Today’s election was a big deal for Mbale because the people have had much hope that their parliamentary vote would finally be represented by the FDC.

Uganda Amaranth Project (UAP):

We started off the cool and rainy day with a meeting with the major decision-makers on the Uganda Amaranth Team: Francis, Innocent, Alex W. of the Sironko Farmers’ Association (SFA), Mama Loy & Bob from Mannu Bakery, and Rich & Cindy Leep from Grand Rapids.  The meeting opened in prayer, and then we heard status updates from SFA and Mannu Bakery before going onto a discussion of future plans for both groups. We tried to lay out implementation steps before closing the meeting in order to set an agenda for the week and goals for the next 6 months.

The general theme of the meeting involved marketing; both of the groups are worried about selling to a market that is slow to accept amaranth grain. The present issue with the farmers right now is that their market for amaranth (the Mannu bakery women) is not dependable. Mannu (“Manna”) Bakery is still assessing its market for both of its product-lines: ground, packaged amaranth for porridge (to be mixed 1:1 with a more inexpensive grain like maize or millet) AND traditional baked goods such as half-cakes and donuts (which – typically only upon request – use a 1:3 ratio of amaranth to regular grain flour).

The largest factors affecting the traditional baked goods are quality (a major issue) and standardization of product as well as product distribution. When asked about the quality of the product, one of the bakers responded “not bad,” and another responded, “we don’t have too many complaints.” (This is not exactly what we’d like to hear.) Regarding distribution, many of the salesmen that the bakery could hire are either untrustworthy or inexperienced, which certainly inhibits Mannu’s ability to make a profit.

For the purpose of maximizing effectiveness, the UAP Team has decided to focus on the market and operations for Amaranth Porridge this week and next.

Quality Issues (amaranth flour not fine enough):

The first quality issue worth mentioning deals with one of the first notches in the value-chain: during the harvesting of amaranth, sand particles can sneak their way into the grain, and the seed is hard to clean because it’s so tiny. The small seeds also are an issue during milling as the final product often is tainted by whole seeds passing through the filter. The technology for amaranth milling is improving every day, however, but for the time being, Mannu will satisfice by washing the amaranth very carefully and then putting the flour through the press a second time to ensure a smoother texture.

Distribution Issues:

Distribution costs are high, and channels are currently scarce. Bakery porridge sales average 7 kilos per week, and the main distribution channel is through 4 local supermarkets. Mannu uses credit terms with the supermarkets and does not profit from the sale of porridge until it leaves the shelves. There are recognizable issues with product placement and differentiation on the shelves that must be further studied. There are also issues with small rats in the stores; rats are known to chew holes in the packages, which requires either re-packaging or disposal of the product. When this happens, the bakery takes a large loss. The other distribution issue involves selling: Mannu is only in its testing phase for amaranth flour and has not yet determined the best way to approach supermarkets or other potential buyers (schools, orphanages, and other institutions).

We talked about many potential vehicles for promotion and ideas for growing the market and navigating the competitive market. Many ideas were tossed around, but in the end it is the bakery women who know their own market the best. They have developed a lot of ideas, but something seems to be off in their execution, though it will be difficult to put a finger on such an inhibitor without first learning more about the culture and the market.

Looking forward, a production goal has been set for Mannu to sell a minimum of 500 kilos of amaranth flour per month. This will be a challenge, but the UAP team is anxious to help the bakery meet its goal.

Finally, an industrial-sized amaranth popper has arrived (after 6 months of waiting) in Mbale for the bakery’s use. The popper was delivered to its final destination – a production space owned by a friend of the bakery – but is not assembled, so a mechanical engineer needs to be found to put the popper together as well as perform quality tests. It would be ideal for the popper to be up and running within 6 weeks, but Mannu has many other pressing items on the agenda that will likely take precedence over diving into production of popped amaranth.

Sadina Inn:

Mike and I walked down the road to visit an inn, which was inherited by a woman named Dinah after the death of her husband. We wanted to meet Dinah’s 19 year-old daughter, Esther, who is a high school graduate headed to Kampala for medical school in August. The relationship-building began over a few games of cards (both American and Ugandan card games) with Esther and her cousin, Amos. Then we found ourselves having a great discussion with Esther about our schools, families, businesses, and politics (remember, it’s Election Day). Of all of the young women Mike and I have met here so far, Esther is the brightest and also has the best English. We are planning a trip into town tomorrow with Esther as our guide. We are hoping that she can work with us for much of our time here as a “cultural interpreter” while Mike and I conduct our interviews.

Our time at Sadina Inn ended with an entertaining display of political pride by the community after news spread that the FDC had won the election today. A parade of men and young boys ran by waving tree branches and shouting, “F-D-C!” There was also sad news of a number of shootings in town during voting today, but everyone was celebrating in our neighborhood. I have a feeling these parades and celebrations will be continuing throughout the night.

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One Comment on “Day 2: Election Day”

  1. Dorothy DeCaro Says:

    Well, it sounds like you have some real challenges, but also very exciting. Happy Birthday! This will be one that you will always remember! Love and prayers.

    Cousin Dot

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