I am now finishing my second Uganda blog at the Entebbe airport. I call it a week… I have visited many places all over Uganda and I met a lot of great people. My experiences of the first days are already described in my previous blog. So I’ll start from there.
Challenges for small scale bakeries
On Monday morning I had a nice discussion about the “small scale bakeries” with Marjon and Matano (managers of Bbrood). The ladies of the small bakeries buy flower for 150k Shilling (about 40 euro) while Bbrood can buy it in bulk for 96k Shilling. Besides the expensive raw materials, the small scale bakeries also have problems because of their limited production capacity and their low selling price. We did some calculations and concluded that they must make a severe loss. But we found different ways to overcome these challenges.
Later that day sister Veronica, local manager Bake for Life, took me to the bakery campus at Tororo (200 km east of Kampala). After a 5 hour drive (on a road full of potholes) we arrived at the location where we were welcomed by the others Sisters and the staff of the bakery.
The Little Sisters
The sisters at the bakery are member of the Little Sisters of St. Francis. Over 600 nuns work on various projects all over the world with one objective: “Empower the disadvantaged”. The selection criteria to become a Little Sister are strict. The will to make the world a better place is not enough. It is also essential to have a degree in a certain area. Among the Little Sisters you find docters, lawyers, accountants, econimists, etc. The Little Sisters is a charity organization managed by professionals.
On Tuesday I got a tour on the bakery campus and I talked to the bakers. It was very interesting to see how it works. A couple of years ago Bake for Life donated the bakery facility to the Little Sisters. The sisters have the responsibility to run the bakery and now manage to make a small profit. It looks good at the first place. But it is important to mention that the sisters do not get a salary. It is possible (and necessary) to improve the performance of the bakery to make it “real” sustainable. I think the sisters should look at the possibility to increase/differentiate the production and increase sales.
But it is not all about making bread on the campus. At the end of May the Sisters start a bakery school. At this school young people learn how to bake bread and how to run a bakery business. Starting this school is very smart and lucrative. It will become one of the few bakery schools in East Africa. I looked at the curriculum and I was impressed by the professional outline. After some discussions about the IT and entrepreneurship courses the Sisters even offered me a job as a lecturer.
It is about infrastructure
After a warm goodbye at the Sisters I took a local mini bus to the city Jinja on Wednesday morning. Jinja is known for the source of the river Nile. It was nice to see where this mighty river starts. I was also hoping to see the famous Bujigari Falls. But unfortunately the new dam made the waterfalls disappear. Hopefully this dam will give sufficient electricity in return….
Everyday I was reminded about the importance of infrastructure. The roads, electricity, water supply, etc. in Uganda are poor (worse than other African countries I’ve visited). The frequent power cuts in Uganda destroy business. I looked into the financials of the Tororo bakery. Almost 25% cost saving is possible with a better infrastructure. The bakery has an expensive generator (running on diesel) to cover for the daily powercuts. And because of the horrible roads (the traffic and high fuel prices) the logistic costs are very high. As long as the Ugandan government does not invest in sustainable infrastructure the growth potential of Uganda remains limited.
Construction of a small scale bakery
On Thursday morning I returned to Kampala for a meeting with the engineers. Last Saturday the engineers joined our visit at the small scale bakery. I was surprised they were able to make a proposal that fast. The proposal was very complete, but at a high price (probably negotiable). I was glad with the information because it gives me a good overview of the total investment to make this project work.
Later that day I had a meeting with Barbara. Barbara is a successful result of the work of the Little Sisters. She started as a student at one of the bakeries and worked herself up as manager of one of the Bbrood shops in Kampala. Next to her busy job she studies and takes care of 15 orphans. She is a real hero, an example for young women!
Sun oven and rain
Time flies….. Friday again. For the afternoon I planned a demo for the Sun oven. But a few hours in advance it was called of. According to the supplier the weather conditions made a demonstration impossible. This was strange to me because it was all sunny. But an hour later it was raining cats and dogs. Uganda has two rain seasons (March – May and September – November) so I now have my doubts if the Sun oven is a serious alternative.
So what is next?
To conclude: I think that sustainable small scale bakeries in rural areas are possible. But it is not easy and it needs a professional approach. I’ll finish the report next week. I hope that my analyses and recommendations give Bake for Life sufficient information and confidence to upscale the project.
I really enjoyed being in Uganda, meeting all the wonderful people and work on this great project. Hopefully I can come back soon!