Ugandan Fish Sausages Transform Female Fortunes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

What to do when your food production enterprise is just not making much money? It is a common problem in the global South, where farmers and fishers often struggle to survive and can face the threat of bankruptcy and destitution when trying to provide essential food for their communities.

Some fish farmers in Uganda – many of them women – were caught up in this dilemma, unable to find a way to make a good income from the fish they were harvesting.

But a lucky hire for one fish cooperative, in the form of a humble secretary, has turned into a business and food success story that is getting set to jump across borders in Africa.

Lovin Kobusingya is the former secretary and university graduate who, through tenacity and ingenuity, has built a business selling fish sausages that has become a hit in Kampala, Uganda in East Africa.

Through trial and error, Kobusingya came upon the idea of turning the fish into sausages. The product, basically unknown in Uganda before, became a tidy solution to the dilemma of how to sell fish at a premium price that could boost the income of the farmers.

She joins the growing number of female entrepreneurs in Africa. Africa has the highest rate of female entrepreneurship in the world, according to the World Bank, which says two-thirds of women in Africa are in the labour force.

The 29-year-old mother of two set up Kati Fish Farms (http://katifarms.org) and Kati Farm Supplies Ltd. and now sells 500 kilograms of fish sausage a day.

Located in the country’s capital, Kampala, Kati Farm Supplies Ltd. prepares and sells a wide range of food products made with chicken, beef, fish, pork, goat, lamb and honey.

Kobusingya is notable not only for her success as a food entrepreneur, but also for the way she has generated attention and excitement around her business and products.

According to Kenya’s Nation newspaper, Kobusingya boosted her profile by gaining customers in Uganda’s hotels.

She graduated six years ago from Makerere University in Kampala (http://mak.ac.ug) and originally planned to go into banking. Like many graduates, she found it hard to break into the sector and get a steady job. After a year of frustrating job hunting, she found a position as a secretary with a fish cooperative society.

“I got a job after a rigorous interview,” she told the Nation. “It was not well-paying.

“The most challenging part of the job was dealing with fish farmers, who were grappling with an unsteady market for their produce.”

Despite all the problems facing the fish industry, Kobusingya became inspired to do something about it. Rather than just hoping market prices would turn in favour of the fish farmers, she diversified the cooperative’s products to add value to the raw fish ingredients.

“Most of our members were women who had taken up aquaculture (fish farming),” she said. “At the time, this was still a novelty.”

It is a tale of trial and error, as Kobusingya tells it.

“We tried selling our products, such as fish feeds, and even selling directly to consumers. But I felt that there was something more we could do to help the farmers even more.”

Becoming frustrated with the constraints of her role, she decided to start the business on top of her day job. She started buying fish directly from the farmers, filleting it herself and selling it to customers.

Yet, still fish was not selling and going to waste.

Then the eureka moment came: make fish sausages. This had never been done in Uganda and she set about undertaking research on the Internet to learn how to do it.

“I assembled bits and pieces of information from the Net on how to make the sausages,” Kobusyingya said.

“Everywhere I went seeking more information, people thought I was out of my mind.

“Nobody had heard of fish sausages but I received support from the Uganda Industrial Research Institute in 2011. They helped me to develop a formula for the product,” she said.

With the new product developed, Kobusingya tried selling it to the hotels in Kampala. And this was the crucial moment when her fortunes changed: people were excited by the new and novel product.

The first orders earned her US $800 and with that jolt of cash, she was able to launch the product in February 2012.

Production started at 100 kilograms of fish sausage a day. By the third month, she was able to produce 500 kilograms a day. And because the product is so popular, she is running hard to meet demand from hotels, food outlets and institutions.

Expanding into selling smoked fish and frozen chicken and beef, she is now working with 470 fish farmers, most of whom are women.

“This business has motivated farmers throughout Uganda,” she said.

“The enterprise, now worth about Ush50 million (US $19,230), has 16 permanent employees,” she said.

She also took the fish sausages on the road and introduced them to the SmartFish trade event in Lusaka, Zambia, where they became a hit with attendees.

SmartFish (http://www.smartfish-coi.org/#!home/mainPage) is funded by the European Union through the European Development Fund and is implemented by the Indian Ocean Commission in partnership with regional trade organizations. The objective of the event was to increase trade within the region.

With her confidence further boosted by the positive international reaction, Koubusingya is exploring how to sell into Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

“I always knew I was a businesswoman,” she told The New York Times. “When I was in high school, I used to sell illegal sweets. And I made money.”

“I am very happy and proud” of being a female entrepreneur. “When I was young, they said: ‘A woman is a woman – a man should take care of you.’ But women are actually contributing a lot more than men. We always find ourselves multitasking,” when juggling work and a family.

Resources

1) SmartFish: The SmartFish Programme aims at contributing to an increased level of social, economic and environmental development and deeper regional integration in the ESA-IO region through improved capacities for the sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources. Website: http://fisheries.ioconline.org/smartfish.html

2) Southern Innovator Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security: Packed with tips and tales on how to tackle the challenges of making food production pay. Website: http://www.scribd.com/doc/105746025/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-3
3) Uganda Industrial Research Institute: Uganda Industrial Research Institute is Uganda Government’s lead agency for industrialization. Website: http://www.uiri.org/
4) A photo gallery showing the harvesting of the fish and the making of the sausages. Website:  http://katifarms.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=70&Itemid=90 

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