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:)

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!

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8 Comments on “Day 3: Birthday in Mbale”

  1. Michele Triscik Says:


    Happy Birthday!!! Love the little boys singing Happy Birthday to you!!! I am so glad you are taking time to write this blog so we can learn more about Uganda and your project!!!


  2. Mikey's Mommy Says:

    Happy Birthday, Ashley! I am so inspired by you. Someone once told me that you are a very compelling young lady and I can see that.

    God Bless and Safe travels.
    Love, Karen

  3. Todd Brown Says:

    1)Happy Birthday Ashley on Ash Wednesday!

    2)”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”

    This is a frustration in health care where it would be nice to have accurate operational costs for individual services and procedures rather than an after the fact bottom line across a practice.

    3)”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.”

    I agree whole heartedly with this statement. Our optical shop operated initially as salary only positions to salary plus production bonus positions for the last few years. It has been amazing to watch the change in behavior of these same employees in the different scenarios and the change in their concerns and needs, such as peer and patient interaction and less desire for additional employees.

    4)Your experiences have been fun to observe as my daughter pursues her business degree at Carolina and the opportunities that are available for her nationally and internationally.

    5)Continued prayers for your success in these projects as well as future employment!

    Todd Brown

  4. Todd Brown Says:

    PS You are making a difference in this world! 🙂

  5. roland Says:

    Yes, what a fun birthday, one that you probably won’t forget. Is it your 23rd?? I will never forget my 23rd either. I was in Guatemala then. Ask me about it. It wasn’t as much as yours.

    Good to read your detailed description. Lots of cool stuff happening.


  6. Outstanding report Ashley, I am so happy that you are getting such a special gift of this type, a learning experience of a lifetime, for your 22nd Birthday. What a special blessing, continue to stay safe and be aware of your surroundings at all times and don’t let your guard down…as my wife and daughter Ashley would say…”trust your instincts don’t assume anything, if your gut is telling something don’t hesitate act and don’t look back” and continue to enjoy the process and have fun…what a wonderful project and real problems to solve, outstanding, to hear and be there with you though your report. I was captivated as I read your report; I feel I need to get involved with this God inspired work….just fantastic and interesting at the same time. Thank you for sharing and giving all the detail. In His mighty grip, Marty Rozboril

  7. Elaine Says:

    Ash, I love the idea of a cooking demo and/or amaranth taste samples/recipes at the grocery store in order to 1) increase awareness and 2) increase sales. I know it’s worked for me to try a new product after being able to taste it first! Continued blessings in your efforts!
    Love, Mom

  8. Uncle Gene & Aunt Kathy Says:

    At-Lee Lu,

    We are so proud of you! We check the blog constantly. I had your mom on google earth looking at your hotel the other day. Keep up the great work, we will continue to stay on top of your postings. I’m so glad our niece, we need to clone you for Jeff and Patrick. Happy Birthday to you sweetheart.

    God speed,

    Gene & Kathy

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